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Bill to cut number of council planning authorities published

Words: Roger Milne

Halving the number of planning authorities as part of moves to reorganise Welsh local government could contribute to savings of £650 million over 10 years, the Welsh Government claimed this week.

Public services minister Leighton Andrews confirmed plans to cut the 22 councils to eight or nine as the administration published the draft legislation required to effect the shake-up. It could trigger the loss of 1,900 jobs.

Decisions on whether those staff are made redundant, offered early retirement or given new jobs would be taken by the new councils.

Reducing the number of administrative posts would cost up to £40 million, with redundancies and early retirement for senior managers costing an additional £6.6 million to £12.4 million.

The proposals to bring back bigger county councils are broadly similar to pre-1996 arrangements.

The up-front costs of the mergers would be between £97 million and £246 million, but the Welsh Government said it expected that it will have paid for itself within two to three years. Dyfed would be brought back by re-merging Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, and West Glamorgan would return by joining Swansea once more with Neath Port Talbot.

Cardiff would merge with the Vale of Glamorgan, while a merger between Caerphilly, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent, Newport and Monmouthshire would create Wales' biggest council, with a population of nearly 600,000. Bridgend would join Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil.

In the eight-council model, Anglesey, Gwynedd and Conwy would merge, as would Denbighshire, Wrexham and Flintshire.

The alternative would see Conwy and Denbighshire merging.

The minster insisted: “There is a real opportunity here for local government to make significant savings for taxpayers and if councils work together, plan well and involve their staff, there is the opportunity for savings even greater than the £650 million we have identified.

"This means more money for front line public services, more money to invest in communities and more money to support local economic prosperity”.

The Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill is not intended to become law until after the Welsh Assembly elections in May 2016.