Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
Fears have been expressed that the creation of a “super-council” could “undermine local democracy”.
The Welsh Government is pressing on with plans to create a new regional committee for the north of Wales and Chris Cater, Conwy County Council’s cabinet member for governance, is worried that it could lead to a “democratic deficit”.
Civil servants in Cardiff are consulting with public bodies in the region about a new North Wales Regional Corporate Joint Committee (CJC), which will be discussed by Conwy County Council’s cabinet today. The body would cover all six local authority areas and Snowdonia National Park Authority.
Conwy County Council’s response to the consultation includes concerns it could take power away from local councils and electors.
Conwy’s cabinet member for governance Chris Cater, said: “Concerning the proposed establishment of CJCs, it is important that CCBC’s response reflects real concerns about a democratic deficit developing, potential lack of proper scrutiny and high costs for another layer of governance and administration.
“The resultant budgets would have to be met by local authorities in a financially stressful pandemic/post pandemic period.”
The report to cabinet said: “Whilst there are some benefits to establishing CJCs, the draft response highlights a number of concerns regarding the undermining of local democracy, scrutiny and accountability, functions, staffing and finance costs.”
The Welsh Local Government Association has also “expressed concern over the principle of mandating the committees which it has argued undermines local democracy”, the report adds.
The new tier of would cover the economy, development planning and transport at a regional level and there will be three other CJCs set up in south-east, south-west and mid-Wales from September this year.
It’s feared the new “super-council” would swallow up the £1 billion North Wales Economic Growth Deal, which already sees all six councils co-operating on developing business and job opportunities, improving communications and reducing skills shortages in the region.
It has been estimated the cost of running the CJC for six years could be between £10.9 – £16.5m.
Plans to voluntarily merge councils were introduced by former public service minister Leighton Andrews in 2015. In 2016 then First Minister Carwyn Jones shelved plans to impose a cut from 22 local authorities to nine. New proposals to reduce the number of councils in Wales to 10 were abandoned by then local government minister Alun Davies in 2018.
In a foreword to the consultation document current local government minister Julie James said collaboration “would be a key” to the country’s post-Covid recovery.
She added: “The model of corporate joint committees builds on the best that has already been achieved in the development of regional arrangements in different parts of Wales.”
Under Part 5 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill, the Senedd can extend the areas of responsibility – and therefore the powers – of the new body.
County council leaders, the only representatives of each public body in the decision making process for CJCs, would also be able to vote to apply to Welsh Government for more responsibility for the new regional committees.
Wrexham, Flintshire and Gwynedd councils have all raised concerns about the nature and timing of the proposals, although the idea was first mooted in 2019.