Local government reorganisation uncertainty harming professionals delivering vital services
The announcement that the proposed merger map for local authorities in Wales is to be withdrawn adds to the uncertainty for housing professionals trying to deliver essential services, says CIH Cymru director Matt Dicks.
At the Welsh Local Government Association’s annual conference last week, Cabinet Secretary for public services and local government Alun Davies announced a step back from the map proposed in March of this year - reflecting plans to reduce the number of local authorities in Wales to ten. The proposals had been met with vigour by those authorities who did not agree with the new footprint or indeed the whole concept of merger.
His caveat was that those in the room must work with him as he seeks to bring forward new legislation looking at reform, or as he put it “look at the way we manage our relationship”.
His announcement was met by enthusiastic applause from most in the audience made up of elected councillors and local government representatives. For me however, the pattern is worrying... and that worry is shared by many in the housing sector working in local authorities.
Through our new Tyfu Tai Cymru project we surveyed local authority housing professionals - asking for their insight and expertise on what merger could mean for housing delivery, and their housing function.
The views reflected a range of views, from those who felt merger would only mean loss, to those who felt it represented the right kind of transformation, and was needed. One respondent told us that merger has “been talked about for a long time – needs to happen” whileanother said “difficult to integrate with another authority that does not hold (housing) stock”.
But the overriding view was that communication about what merger would really mean was poor and people feared the impact on how services get delivered, the impact on tenants, the wider community and job losses.
While Mr Davies' latest move has been welcomed by many, for those housing professionals it adds to the cycle of uncertainty that has now been going on for years after previous proposals have come and gone.
This isn’t a criticism aimed at supporting or opposing the merger agenda - it’s highlighting a problem that those at the epicentre of the politics are not readily seeing.
The cabinet secretary spoke about a relationship based on respect with local government colleagues - it’s about time that respect was extended to housing professionals working tirelessly to reduce homelessness, regenerate communities and boost the supply of safe, affordable homes.
Those on all sides of this debate must progress at speed to a point where the shape of local government (change or no change) is clear for all to see. This will inevitably involve the bravery to put the politics to one side in the interest of making sure housing professionals can get on with the business of delivering homes and vital housing support services.