THE local government minister announced yesterday that councils which voluntarily merge due to re-organisation will be able to delay elections until 2018.

The local government and government business minister, Lesley Griffiths AM, at a Welsh Local Government Association conference in Llandudno, announced plans to allow local authorities which voluntarily merge to hold their elections, for the new authorities, a year later than those which don’t.

She said: “Reforming local government is about more than a cosmetic redrawing of the map of council boundaries to achieve economies of scale. While the financial forecasts are not good and local authorities will face more challenging scenarios next year and in the longer term, funding is not the driver for this reform.

“Local authorities must be organised in ways which allow the voices of communities to ring loud and clear at the centre of democratic decision making. I want us to work together to put in place a new relationship between local authorities, communities and individuals.”

Wrexham AM Ms Griffiths told local authority leaders they should expect significant announcements setting out the way forward in reforming public services in Wales before the summer recess. The re-organisation of local authorities was outlined in the Williams Commission report which recommended that the 22 local authorities in Wales should be cut to 10, 11 or 12.

She added: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a new and unique system of local government which provides the very best for the people and communities we serve.

“The 1996 reorganisation of Welsh local government was before devolution. Wales can do better. This time we will build a new local government in Wales for Wales, together.”

The leader of Torfaen council, cCllr Bob Wellington, at a speech in the conference called for an open and honest debate for re-organisation with the Welsh Government. He said local government was a force for good and that local leaders should be at the heart of discussions on their futures.

The councillor also said he favoured localism over distanced centralism and said top down approaches were not working in Wales. or in the rest of the UK. He also wants an end to the complexity of funding and greater financial flexibility for local governments in Wales.