Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Williams and democracy

In my lifetime, I have seen two major local government reorganisations which affected Wales. These were the Local Government Act 1972 and the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994. As Professor Andrew Davies observed on Radio Wales earlier this year, "each time it was said that this was to be the solution, but there is no magic solution".

Professor Davies had drafted Labour's manifesto for the 2011 Assembly election and included a recommendation that an independent commission be set up to "look at Welsh public services in the round", how to "raise performance, accountability and scrutiny".

Well, since then we had the Williams Commission and yesterday the Welsh Government's response to it. The recommendation for the reorganisation of local government is only part of the report, but it is the one which is making the Welsh headlines. Peter Black has already commented.

My own view is that the current unitary authorities already strain local democratic accountability. Powys is arguably already too large in terms of land area. The proposed mergers will further loosen the connection between the citizen and the decision-making executive while still not achieving the economies of scale or having sufficient power to attract high-quality directors. If we are to have a further concentration of power, let us go straight to four or five regional authorities, either appointed by the Senedd or elected by a fair voting system. I favour the appointed authority option, because it would cut out an irrelevant level of election (critics of UK democracy frequently draw attention to the large numbers of elections we hold) and ensure that ultimate control would be in the hands of the Welsh Assembly, which is already elected on a reasonably proportional basis.

Of course, my solution would bring community councils more into focus, but this would be no bad thing.

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