Are we learning from the old? A case study of Welsh local government restructuring
Local Government in Wales has undergone restructuring in the 1970s, the 1990s, and is currently undergoing the process again. In each round of restructuring, the same arguments appear: economies of scale, rationalisation, reducing costs, reducing the number of councillors. The result has been fewer councils across Wales and fewer councillors. The question has to be raised as to the extent of the lesson-learning which has been undertaken from each previous restructuring. If the same arguments are being presented, it suggests the previous restructurings failed to achieve their aims (with the exception of a crude reduction in both councils and councillors). Yet the justification for further restructuring hangs upon similar arguments. With each restructuring, there has been a merging of urban and rural local authorities. Little consideration appears to have taken place with regard to the specific needs and requirements of the different geographical areas. Each restructuring has seen a ‘one size fits all’ approach. No thought appears to be given to the role of the local councillor or how a local council interacts with its’ local community. Again, there are very different relationships for urban and rural councils. Mergers of councils appear more like marriages of convenience rather than any other rationale. Bigger is perceived to be better. When that is seen to fail, even bigger councils are proposed. The result of this is the loss of identity of councils and those living under the umbrella of a council, as well as a reduction in democratic participation. It is clear that lesson-learning has not happened with the restructuring of local government in Wales. It is not just a neo-liberal ideological imperative which is leading the attack on local government, these attacks pre-date the advent of neo-liberalism. Instead, there appears to be a clear push towards greater centralisation. Whenever such an attack is seen to fail to deliver more rational local government, the exponents double-down their bets and push for even larger local authorities and fewer councillors. There appears to be no desire to learn from past experiences. Such a perspective applies regardless as to which ‘superior’ tier of government is attempting to manipulate local government structures.
Citation:Jones, A. (2018) Are we learning from the old? A case study of Welsh local government restructuring. European Urban Research Association (EURA) annual conference, Tilburg, 21-23 June 2018.
Research Group:Local Governance Research Centre (LGRC)