The Community Council recently received proposals from the Local Government Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales which proposed a series of reviews of local authorities over the next decade.
The Community Council disagrees with the programme and considers it insufficient. The response by the Community Council is as follows:
We refer to your Electoral Reviews Programme 2014 that was circulated some weeks ago. This council wishes to take issue with some of the assumptions you have made when you
decided the factors to be used in the consideration of a programme of reviews in Wales. We wish to point out some anomalies that should be addressed.
Firstly, Wales suffers from a significant level of overrepresentation. There are 40 Members of Parliament 60 Assembly Members and 22 local authorities for a population of approximately 3,100,000 people (2011). This comes at a cost to the public purse. Whilst the Assembly does not have powers to change the Parliamentary or Assembly representation, it does have the power to tackle the gross overrepresentation of local councils and councillors.
Wales has more local councillors in the 22 authorities than Scotland whose population is approximately 5,292400 (2011 census). Scotland has 1,223 councillors with an average of 1 councillor for 4,327 people. In Wales there are 1,254 councillors over the 22 local authorities providing one councillor for 2,472 people.
Unlike Wales, Scotland does not have a further tier of community and town councils and if the same ratio for Scotland is applied to Wales there would be a maximum of 716 councillors. If account is also taken of the community and town councils then this number could be even less.
Secondly, the present set up is expensive. Each councillor in Wales is paid a minimum of £13,175 and if account is then taken of the additional allowances that are paid for Committee Chairs etc. this could rise to at least £17,000 p.a. Reducing the number of councils and councillors would save the public purse a minimum of £7,088,150 and possibly at least £9,146,000 each year. Community and Town councillors are not paid (but can claim expenses).
The consequence of having 22 authorities is an enormous cost for providing public services. Figures published in May 2013 (Wales on line) showed 56 council employees in Wales taking home salaries of more than £100,000 in 2011/12. Also more than 50 chief officers from councils across Wales took home salaries of at least £100,000 in 2011/12.The salaries covered a range of titles from chief executives to directors responsible for departments like education, social services, regeneration and the environment.
The Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013 has received Royal Assent and the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has said: “Through our ambitious five year legislative programme, we are introducing ‘made in Wales’ solutions to the issues affecting us as a nation. This Act represents a further step in our drive to ensure local democracy in Wales operates as efficiently and effectively as possible.” However, nothing is said or presumably planned which will address the obvious problem. There are simply too many local authorities in Wales which are costing a fortune to run.
Third, it is not surprising that the Welsh Local Government Association chief executive was also quoted as saying that the complexity of work within local government has “increased considerably” over the last 10 years and this has been coupled with constant re-structuring which has seen senior management teams reduce from around 10 to three or four directors.
There is a significant knock on effect to the public purse as a result of the large local governemnt bureaucracy: In Wales the average band D council tax for 2013-14 is £1,226. The Daily Telegraph reported on 4 December last that Hammersmith and Fulham Council through improvements to how their services are delivered are setting next year’s band D tax at £735.
It would appear that the perceived wisdom is that the Assembly will continue in its present form with ever increasing costs that are excused as it accumulates even more powers. This will mean even fewer funds for service delivery as central government is understandably reluctant to write Wales a blank cheque. This goes unchallenged at present. Therefore we propose that as well as local authorities, the Assembly should reduce costs significantly at least in line with the reductions in Whitehall numbers. We do understand that this would not be part of your remit.
Finally we would like to suggest to you that what is actually required is a root and branch review to make radical cuts to the present bureaucracy of local government. If a reduction of the number of councillors is equivalent to a 40% saving it should be possible to substantially reduce local government costs in a similar way. This will free up revenue which any future Welsh Government can use to reinvest as additional capital to improve the overall delivery of services in Wales. We ask you therefore to reconsider your review programme and focus on achieving significant savings for the benefit of the people of Wales.
Clerk to Colwinston Community Council