THE political map of Wales could be on the verge of its biggest shake-up since 1996, with Gwent councillors warning that counties risk being forced to merge with neighbouring authorities.

Newport councillors spurned the suggestion of merging voluntarily with Monmouthshire Council last week - but a merger could still be on the cards after a Welsh Government commissioned report found there were too many councils in Wales.

The Williams Commission reported back in January this year, and recommended that the number of councils be reduced from 22 to between 10 and 12 by 2017/18 - as low as less than half of the councils currently in Wales.

Earmarked to merge in the review are Newport and Monmouthshire, but also Torfaen, Caerphilly and Blaenau Gwent.

The Welsh Government claims this would save half a billion pounds over a decade.

But the ideas are controversial as many councils do not want to merge, and the sweetener of extra funding to help with the transition has not let to a great take-up so far.

At the Senedd yesterday Liberal Democrat Peter Black AM asked First Minister Carwyn Jones whether funding to help ease the transition to a merger would be given to councils even if they did not merge voluntarily.

The First Minister responded that such decisions would be made after the next Assembly elections. “That’s a matter for the parties to put in their manifestos.”

He said he anticipated some councils would choose to merge: “Many local authorities, or some local authorities, will look to merge particularly with regards certainty for their staff.”

The economic case for streamlining council services may convince some but it will be a hard sell to people who suddenly find themselves living in Newmon, Blaentorphilly or whatever the new authorities may be christened.

Monmouth AM Nick Ramsay said he would fight "tooth and nail" for Monmouthshire to be retained after the suggestion was first made.

He said: “The history of local government in Wales tells us that that reorganisation happens way too often, always costs money and never delivers the scale of savings to the public purse or public service improvements we are promised at the outset.”

And his neighbours in Newport were no more keen on the Williams report matchmaking.

Council leader Bob Bright told councillors at a meeting last week that he thought it would be “a retrograde step if we were absorbed into a rural council.” Denying that this was a ‘NIMBY’ (not in my back yard) reaction, he said it was important for Newport to retain its status as the third city in Wales when thinking of the economic regeneration of Wales.

He said: “My own view is the Williams proposals are somewhat out of date now with events that have taken place recently with the referendum in Scotland and the Prime Minister announcing there’s going to be major constitutional change. That really does focus the attention on how that constitutional change and how localism and government will be provided in the future.”

With both sides of the council chamber uniting against the proposal, conservative Cllr David Fouweather said: “Newport has been a well performing council and we should be proud of that and the Welsh Government should recognise that.

My thoughts are [minister for public services Leighton Andrews] will drive forward now and force us just to have 12 local authorities for the whole of Wales and that is worrying.”

He compared the current situation to a proposal in 2010 which would have seen Alway and Ringland wards merged as well as Beechwood and St Julians. “That clearly didn’t work, that was thrown out because it was crazy, he said. “They were huge areas with no natural connection to each other in some way. Just imagine how that would be with Monmouth. The north of Monmouth and Abergavenny has no interest in what happens here in Newport.”

He added: “I honestly believe we are going to be forced. We are going to be pushed. We have to stand together on this as 22 authorities.”

The clock is now ticking in the run-up to November 28, the deadline for councils to tell the Welsh Government they want to merge voluntarily. After proposals from councils the government will respond on January 5, with a view to having detailed merging proposals by June 30 2015.

But Newport Council’s chief executive Will Godfrey told the meeting the government had been vague about where additional funding would come from: “They do say they intend to make resources available to support voluntary mergers. They don’t give any detail about what that is, how much money that would be, where that money comes from.”

Newport councillors may have turned their back on the plan for now, but this is still the beginning of the process.