For too long, confusion has reigned over the future of local government in Wales; and – with it – the future identify of many of Wales’ proudest communities.
Labour’s handling in proposing reorganisation of Wales’ Councils has been a shambles – and the Cardiff Bay bubble has become obsessed with a numbers game.
We’ve had the costly Williams Commission which proposed either 10, 11 or 12 Local Authorities in Wales. Ministers then binned those proposals – instead proposing 8 or 9. The Local Government Minister has also said Wales could have as few as six Councils. It’s like the numbers round on Countdown – and Labour don’t have the answer.
Leighton Andrews’ marker-pen assault on the map of Wales has caused huge uncertainty – to jobs, to local services and to the future of many of Wales’ traditional counties.
That’s why – this week – I was proud to table an amendment to the Local Government (Wales) Bill; which would have made any merger of Local Authorities subject to a referendum.
That would mean no Council merger could take place without the expressed agreement of local people. Any merger would only go ahead if a majority of votes cast in each area is in favour – meaning the establishment of a new Council will require the support of the people it is to represent.
For me, the key word is justification. A clear case would need to be made to local people as to why mergers would benefit them. If the case is made, and the public support – a merger will happen. If it can’t be made – they shouldn’t.
Sadly, Labour Ministers, and other political parties in the Assembly, failed to grasp the opportunity to support this. The amendment fell.
As it stands – many people see areas, communities and identities they strongly associate with under threat. Pembrokeshire, Monmouthshire, Powys and the Vale of Glamorgan – and others – could be expunged from the map, on Labour’s watch.
Welsh Conservatives believe in empowerment – and that is what this policy is all about. The Welsh Government should be taking the public with it on local government reorganisation – and our referenda plan would have been the ideal way to achieve that.
It’s not too late, though. A Welsh Conservative Government in May 2016 will ensure that local authorities have the final say on any mergers.
The people of Monmouthshire should have the final say over their future. Labour’s plans have denied them that right.
The same logic applies to residents in every corner of Wales; from the Vale of Glamorgan in the south, to Pembrokeshire in the West and Wrexham in the North.
My party will make no apologies for putting power in the hands of local communities.