Too Many Councils in Wales

Normal Mouth has a weekly column in the Welsh Magazine Golwg. After the mag has been printed Normal posts the original post that Golwg has translated on his blog. His latest offering can be seen here.

It appears that Normal doesn't do the post heading! He has had difficulty with finding a heading for his current pre-translation!

Under the title Too Many Councils? Time to Face the Truth Normal makes the case in Golwg that there are too many councils in Wales. I agree. Thirteen county councils were good enough for almost 700 years. There may have been an argument for change, but the change should have resulted in fewer rather than more councils.

Normal makes the fair point that Kent County Council has a similar population to that of Wales. However Kent is not an "Unitary Authority" it contains 12 city, borough and district councils, not too far off the 13 "traditional" Welsh councils!

Kent also has over 500 community and parish councils.

I agree with Normal that the number of county councils should be reduced. My personal opinion is that we should have between five and eight county councils, reducing the number of councils to a sensible level would save a lot of money.

However I disagree with Normal on one critical point. Normal ends his column by saying The Assembly appears eager to acquire new powers from above. It is time it looked under the stairs as well. To put it in local speak the ability to act should be taken from Conwy and given to Cardiff!

That is a non starter!

One of the best arguments that the "antis" made in 1979 and 1999 was that "devolution" = "centralisation" this argument has been proved. It is a truism that my local parish council was responsible for more aspects of local services in 1880 than the Assembly is responsible for today!

The nationalist heartland voted NO in 1979, because it feared that all would be centered in Cardiff. The Yes argument in these parts was basically one that felt that, after Thatcher, Cardiff centered government would be better than London centered government.

The fact that the Cardiff centered government can find 13 million pounds to save its local concert hall, but it cant find a piddling million quid to save the biggest employer in Conwy, makes Cardiff feels further away from Conwy than it was 10 years ago and it feels much further away than even London or Brussels are.

The general feeling in those parts of Wales to the north of the Beacons and to the West of Barry is that Devolution has devolved bugger all, it has centralised everything in Cardiff.

The Assembly, as it acquires more powers from above, should look under the stairs, as Normal suggests, but it should do so in order to give careful consideration to the powers that can be sent downstairs!

Any referendum for more powers for Cardiff, that doesn't ensure that local government in the North and the West is strengthened will fail, and will deserve to fail!


  1. You supply a useful perspective from the north, Alwyn, and it is of course true that any consolidation of powers from local to devolved government would likely prove unpopular and could intersect with any referendum in unfortunate way. But that does not mean it is not the right thing to do. The advent of devolved government should force a re-think on what powers should exist at local level, and whether it is efficient for so many to rest there.

    Hence my comparison with Kent was for the County per se, rather than the County Council. We need a fresh look at how many governments we need to govern 3 million people.

  2. This is something that Vaughan has brought up in the past fortnight. Everyone agrees that there are too many local authorities, but nothing will happen until the referendum has been dealt with.

  3. I suspect that part of this idea is a wish by Labour to retrieve power from the authorities it has lost.If (for example) the old West Glamorgan was recreated as a unitary authority,they would return to power in Swansea where they are likely to be out for the foreseeable future.Bridgend would return to them if Mid Glamorgan was recreated.In general I agree with the main point of Alwyn's post.

  4. Nowadays Local government just seems to be a branch office of central government with far too much power vested in the paid officials and far too little in the elected councillors.

    I'd like - as just one example - to see real democracy returned to the local councils, if council A wants a school leaving age of 15, 15 it should be and if council B prefers 18, give them the power to implement that.

    Far too radical for our political class of course, but then they've never really got used to democracy whether they wear right or left labels.


  5. Interesting post.

    I agree that 22 Councils is far too many (and yes, you can blame us Conservatives for the current situation!). I also feel that larger and more effectice councils could be a force for good in re-balancing the controlist tendancy within the Assembly.

    In simple terms a strong Gwynedd and a strong Clwyd would be a much better counter balance to the Cardiff Bay assembly than the six current North Wales authorities.

    How about a Gwynedd (north west), Clwyd (north East) Powys and Deheubarth (mid and West Wales), Glamorgan (less Swansea and Cardiff who could stand alone) and Gwent? Seven authorities with a real regional impact and the ability to stand up to Cardiff.

    That is what I would describe as devolution!

  6. Normal said
    it is of course true that any consolidation of powers from local to devolved government would likely prove unpopular and could intersect with any referendum in unfortunate way. But that does not mean it is not the right thing to do.

    Consolidation of powers from local to devolved government is an oxymoron. The point of devolution is subsidiarity, that powers are passed down to the lowest possible level.

    What you are advocating is the antithesis of devolution. You are advocating that local rights and authority should be lost in order to justify the existence of a Welsh tier of government.

    This is one of the reasons why I believe in independence for Wales rather than devolution.

    An independent Wales could afford to pass powers down to the appropriate level. A devolved government seems to have the need to suck up every power it can get in order to justify its own existence!

    One of the worst examples of this power grabbing is the fact that every Assembly member voted in favour of taking my right to chastise my own children in my own home off me, and to subject my family's discipline to Assembly rules!

    This isn't devolution, it is state control of the worst possible type!

  7. How about a Gwynedd (north west), Clwyd (north East) Powys and Deheubarth (mid and West Wales)...

    Hehe. I'm a fan of Deheubarth being used as a name too. Dyfed was a mistake.

  8. As I mentioned last week on CF99, we have failed to come to terms with the role of local government within a new devolved Wales. certainly, i do not believe we can create a parliament for Wales (which I support by the way) without at least looking at the whole area of local delivery of public services at part of this. Indeed, there could be a danger that any future referendum could be lost if there is a perception that a Cardiff centric Assembly continues to squeeze local services in other parts of Wales. The 'them and us' mentality could cause serious damage to support for a Senedd

  9. I've always felt that there was some distant historical link between the Swiss cantons and the old Welsh cantrefi.

    Whatever the number of Welsh councils, and about 8 or 9 would seem correct, there's little point if these are just service deliverers for policies laid down at the centre. Local government should be local and let diversity rule .... the powers enjoyed by the Swiss cantons would be something we should seek to emulate.

    How about it? Why do we always have to trail after England and its solutions like some wet-arsed puppy dog?

  10. The number of councils does need to be reduced, but must take into account issues of local identity, human scale etc. A Gwynedd authority would be feasable, but I think a Powys-Deheubarth would be an amalgamation too far. I'm from the far north of Powys, Llanrheadr-ym-Mochnant, and Llandrindod wells is a very long way away. Lord only knows how people would react to being run from Carmarthen- Cardiff would be more accessible to us.

    A system of about 14 councils would I think be viable, large enough for economies of scale and capable of taking over some services such as health and subjecting them to a degree of local democratic oversight for the first time, while not losing the vital local dimension.

    Also, as well as devolution from Cardiff to the rest of Wales, any change must also tranfer real power to the 'very local' within the new regions- such as through the use of area commitees (as happens to a degree already in Powys and Gwynedd- municipal fedaralism perhaps?) and particularly to our much neglected community councils. Most importantly, we need to develop a culture of participatory democracy to avoid the pitfalls of bureaucratic centralism which have afflicted Wales at national and local level for far too long.

  11. I agree that Powys-Deheubarth would be a geographic and demographic mistake. I still prefer "Deheubarth" to "Dyfed" though.

  12. You bring this issue up but for example people in Llanelli feel really disenfranchised about being run from Carmarthen.

    How on earth is this going to improve the different situations nationwide.

  13. I appreciate the point about Llanelli and Carmarthen, Ryan. the same problem exists in Conwy where the people of Colwyn Bay feel that they are ignored and that too much emphasis is given to Llandudno.

    As I said in a comment above The point of devolution is subsidiarity, that powers are passed down to the lowest possible level. The lowest possible level is community / parish level. Many of the powers that the Assembly has today were exercised at a parish level before local government reform n the 1970's. I would like to see many of those powers returned to the communities, rather than to the counties.