Ten Welsh councils have agreed to work together to develop a combined authority that could make key decisions for the South East Wales region on economic development, transport and planning.
Seen as a significant development in how local government in Wales will operate in the future, the development of a combined authority means important strategic decisions can be made at a regional level. The ten Welsh councils will now look to discuss the proposal further with Welsh Government and other stakeholders.
The development of a combined authority does not impact on the wider voluntary merger activity being promoted by Welsh Government, but does demonstrate local government’s ability to develop a new way of doing business that is expected to lead to the transfer of substantial resources and powers to aid regional development in the future.
Monmouthshire County Council leader Peter Fox welcomed the move stating: “This absolutely makes sense it allows us to build on the excellent working relationships that already exists between the ten authorities but will take things to a new level.
“The combined model is working well in other parts of the UK and totally aligns with the emerging Cardiff capital city region which is striving to deliver an agenda of transformational change to the region which covers the ten authorities.
“The beauty of a combined model is that it can allow a retention of localism while allowing significant economies of scale by providing some services regionally where they can also contribute the economic future of south east Wales and the strategic vision of the Welsh Government.”
Having closely monitored developments around the UK as city regions such as Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield successfully negotiate new funding relationships with central government, council leaders in south east Wales believe a democratic combined authority will help them to work strategically together on improving the economic and social well-being of the south east Wales region as whole.
The proposal from the councils of south east Wales reflects the growing UK-wide debate on how greater powers should be devolved to cities, councils and local communities.
While there have been numerous announcements on the establishment of similar combined authorities in England over recent months, this will be the first example of the approach being taken in Wales.
On behalf of all council leaders in south east Wales, councillor Bob Wellington CBE, leader of Torfaen council and the Welsh Local Government Association, said: “The debate on the form and function of local government is moving rapidly in Wales, and this agreement demonstrates how local councils are exploring innovative new ways of doing business that will offer communities a settled and lasting outcome that is fit for purpose now and into the future.
“Whatever the final shape and number of councils in Wales once Welsh Government merger plans come to fruition, the new councils will still need to work closely together to improve the effectiveness of public services. The development of a combined authority will not create a new or ‘extra’ organisation. It will create a clear decision making structure that will allow councils to deliver at a strategic regional level, while also ensuring local communities retain a strong role in shaping their sense of place and the services they receive.
“This is an important development and one we have been working towards for some time. It complements the work of the Cardiff Capital City Region Board, meets the aspirations of the Welsh Government and it will deliver on the shared commitment we all have as council leaders to deliver for the communities of south east Wales.
“There is much work left to do, and we look forward to discussing the proposal further with Welsh Government and our wider regional partners. If successful, the proposal will bring regional collaboration to previously un-reached levels, and will mark a significant evolution of local government’s role in Wales.”