Responding to the Welsh Government's White Paper published today, 'Reforming Local Government', the Welsh Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesperson, Peter Black said that it left many questions on reorganisation unanswered, details on costs and council tax levels remain unclear, whilst without reform of the way the new councils are elected we will end up with more of the same:
"The Government's White Paper says that it wants to ensure that locally elected members are truly representative of the communities they serve," said Mr. Black, "The best way to achieve that is by introducing a fair voting system, which will ensure that we have less uncontested elections, a better choice of candidates and outcomes that reflect the way people vote. If a council is more representative of its community in that way then it becomes more open, more transparent and more accountable and as a result we get better services.
"The Minister's view on the costs of mergers is wholly unconvincing. She appears to pluck figures out of the air without any detail of how savings will be realised and when. This is not an issue that can be glossed over as the white paper attempts to do. In a time of austerity every penny counts and unfunded costs will lead directly to cuts in front line services.
"Finally, the Williams Commission highlighted the impact of mergers on council tax levels. They made it clear that without an extra penny being spent and before the new councils set their budgets, many families will find themselves paying more, whilst others will be better off. Thus in terms of the proposed merger of Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot, council tax payers in the latter council will pay 4.4% less, whiilst Bridgend familes will face a 4.8% increase.
"Council taxpayers in Anglesey will face a 6.9% hike as the price of becoming part of a new Gwynedd Council; Conwy taxpayers will pay 6.1% more; in Pembrokeshire council tax bills will soar by 9%; Newport by 6.5%; whilst the price for residents of Caerphilly of a merger with Blaenau Gwent will be 10.1% extra on their bills. The Minister does not have a convincing answer to that issue either.
"My view is that if this agenda is to proceed then we need a lot more detail and some answers to fundamental problems in the process. I am afraid that none of those answers are to be found in the Welsh Government's White Paper."