UP TO 25,000 council jobs could be lost across Wales if plans to reorganise local authorities go ahead.
The sombre warning has been issued by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) as the country waits to hear the recommendations of the Williams Commission on public services on Monday.
Some commentators believe a big reduction in the number of councils, from the current 22, is on the cards.
Such a move is being justified as saving money but research by the accountants Deloitte, commissioned by the WLGA, suggests the cost of the changes is likely to be more than £200million.
A spokesman warned: “Following the approach taken by previous reorganisations in England the cost fell to the council taxpayer and Deloitte's research shows that the capital financing implications of borrowing could put one to two per cent on the council tax bill.”
The last restructuring in Welsh local government was nearly 20 years ago.
The First Minister Carwyn Jones said, last year, that he knew of no-one who argued to keep the existing councils in their current form
Dominic MacAskill, Head of Local Government in Wales for Unison, said that his union had always considered 22 local authorities to be too many however he sounded a note of caution is reducing the number in today’s economic climate.
He said: “This is not the best time to be reducing councils because we are facing some really heavy budgetary cuts. Everybody agrees that it would cause a great deal of upheaval.
“If we are going to reorganise then there needs to be a clear time-frame and commitment from the Welsh Government to fund the costs.”
Saying that a cull would present a good opportunity to be innovative and make savings he called for a sensible time-frame following any decision.
As far as numbers are concerned he added: “We haven’t got a particular number in mind but it makes sense to reorganise with the health boards in mind; although we are not saying the numbers should be identical.”
Whatever the recommendation the trade unionist has called on the Welsh Government to handle the process saying: “We are also uncertain about how staff will be affected. What we don’t want to see is the 22 local authorities acting independently.
“We want the Welsh Government to form an all-Wales Staff Commission to oversee the process so that it’s fair.
“We could be seeing upwards of 25,000 job losses in Wales alone in local government.”
A spokesman for Swansea Council said that it would not be able to comment until the report has been published and it knew what the recommendations were.
Similarly the leader of Carmarthenshire Council, councillor Kevin Madge, said: “It is difficult to comment on the report without having seen it, anything said now would be purely speculative. Once the report has been published and we have had time to consider its contents I will give a full statement.”
Neath Port Talbot also declined.
Leaders need to put parochial issues aside’
FORMER leader of Swansea Council and current head of Whiterock Consulting Lawrence Bailey gave his take on the situation.
He said: “Reducing the number of Welsh councils is the easy bit. The big challenge comes in ensuring the focus remains on making improvements. This is especially the case with a critical service that will affect us all during our lifetimes.
“The view at Cardiff Bay is that the seven Local Health Boards covering Wales are already moving in the right direction in terms of integrated services. As such, I think we’ll see new functional boundaries aligning with NHS arrangements rather than the other way around.
“Locally, we already have the Western Bay Collaboration made up of social services departments in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot & Bridgend councils and ABMU Local Health Board working together on joint strategies.
“This cross-boundary approach makes sense in light of the predicted ‘silver tsunami’ with the number of over-75s expected to nearly double in the next twenty years. Most hospital wards are now predominantly filled with older people, accounting for nearly three quarters of patients in acute hospital beds.
“A recent report by the Kings Fund calculated that for every pound spent in the NHS, 70p goes towards managing the care of older people. The findings also highlighted that inadequate funding for Social Services in council budgets means that they are often problems in getting people out of hospital and back into independent living.
“Joint working can only go so far in addressing this type of issue. What we should now expect is a move towards a more comprehensive formal solution.
“I’m sure that there are going to be plenty of questions about accountability but what’s needed for the present is for political leaders to put aside parochial interests and face up to the realities ahead.”