The Williams Commission into Welsh public services has stopped short of backing the merger of adult social services and local health boards despite concluding that the number of local authorities should be cut from the current 22 to between 10 and 12.
The commission, set up by the Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, said slimming down local government was necessary to tackle “critical” pressures such as an ageing population.
Its report on the future of public services in Wales warned that as the country’s population gets older, smaller councils could be hit by rising demand for social services and falling income.
According to the Welsh Local Government Association the move could result in the loss of 15,000 jobs and could cost as much as £200m, although the commission estimated an upfront cost of £100m followed by annual savings of between £60m and £80m.
While the report said that integration between adult social care and health services was necessary to improve services and prevent service users being shunted between the two, it decided that this could be achieved without bringing them into one organisation.
This, it said, could worsen the links between adult social services and children’s social services and housing departments, and that the differences in the professional values and approaches of social work and healthcare were unlikely to change just by bringing the two together.
Instead it recommends that adult social services and local health boards urgently develop plans to integrate their services. The Welsh Government should use powers, such as those proposed in the Social Services Bill, to intervene where local bodies fail to do this fast or fully enough.
The Williams Commission also said community health councils, which advise and advocate on behalf of service users, should have their remit expanded to cover residential social care services.
Responding to the report Jones said: “This report addresses many issues that are critical at a time when the need for public services is outstripping the resources available to provide them. I have always been clear that the status quo is not an option.
“Change is inevitable and essential so that our public services can become more efficient, effective, accessible and responsive. I will now take time to consider the report in detail and respond in due course.”
Dominic MacAskill, Unison Cymru’s head of local government, said the union has already started a study to examine the impact the proposals could have on public sector workers in Wales but said the report “appears to be a sensible and balanced response to the challenges that Welsh public services face”.
“Unison has always been clear that 22 local authorities across Wales is an unsustainable position,” he said. “We need to use this chance to ensure that local authorities can sustainably deliver good quality services and value for money for Welsh communities.
“However, Unison is concerned that there are going to be significant transitional costs incurred as a result of reorganisation and believes that the Welsh government should commit to fund any reorganisation and that local authority budgets should not be required to absorb these costs.”
The Williams Commission has called on the Welsh Government to secure an agreement on the future of public services by Easter but the Welsh Local Government Association said the decision should not be rushed.
“Any change must be firmly based on a robust cost benefit analysis and precise identification of the upfront resources required to pay for large-scale change,” the association said in a statement.
The Williams Commission’s report sets out several ways in which councils could be reorganised but recommends that, at the very least, the following authorities should merge:
- Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Torfaen
- Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot
- Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan
- Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire
- Conwy and Denbigshire
- Flintshire and Wrexham
- Gwynedd and Isle of Anglesey
- Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf
- Monmouthshire and Newport
Further options include combing Swansea with Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend, and merging Carmartenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. In the case of Powys, the commission proposes merging the local authority with the local health board due to the county’s unique characteristics.