THE leader and deputy leader of Blaenau Gwent have told the Argus they have an open mind over merger proposals for the borough.

Labour leader Hedley McCarthy and his deputy Steve Thomas’ comments come despite Cllr McCarthy having previously saying Labour councillors facing abolition wouldn’t campaign for AMs.

Meanwhile a Gwent Labour AM has said Caerphilly should be allowed to stand alone as an authority.

Cllr Hedley McCarthy, Blaenau Gwent council leader, said: “There needs to be a full and frank debate within the Labour party.”

“I have got an open mind. My priority is to protect jobs and services in Blaenau Gwent.”

Deputy leader Cllr Steve Thomas said: The reason that these mergers are being proposed is because of budgetary issues and so forth.

“I have to be realistic enough that to counteract this problem we might have to tackle it in a different way.

“That could mean a merger.”

Mr Thomas said he wasn’t opposed to an “ongoing conversation” about the best way to retain Blaenau Gwent’s identity and preserve as many jobs as possible in the area.

Last year a letter from Mr McCarthy, sent to party colleagues but leaked to the press, ripped into Welsh Government policy saying Labour councillors facing abolition “are unlikely to be turkeys voting for Christmas” and help AMs get relected in 2016.

Meanwhile Gwyn Price, Labour AM for Islwyn, said that he believes with a population of 183,000 population Caerphilly would qualify to continue as a single council.

“We are big enough in Caerphilly to stand alone,” he said. “I think it is the thoughts of quite a few of my colleagues within the Caerphilly Labour Party.”

“They have got good methods in Caerphilly that we can take forward for the benefit of the residents of the borough as a whole.”

There is yet to be a Welsh Government response to the Williams Commission, which proposed reducing the number of Welsh councils to as few as ten. It said Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Torfaen should merge, and that Newport and Monmouthshire should combine into a separate authority.

Carwyn Jones, Welsh first minister, had told a press conference earlier this week that the report had produced a “good map” but that it was important to consider arguments for altering one or two.