This week Dawn Bowden AM and I met with Julie James AM, the Welsh Government Minister for Housing and Local Government, to be briefed about the support she has provided to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.
As you may have read, the two independent people who will work alongside the Council have now been agreed. As the Minister said in her written statement: “they are Mr John Gilbert, an experienced and well-respected local authority Chief Executive, as my external adviser to undertake an initial scoping review of the Council. The review will be a rapid review and will scope the main challenges facing the Council.
At the end of the review, Mr Gilbert will provide a report setting out his findings which will be used to identify immediate actions and also inform the next phase of the support package.
“In addition, Ms Kate Allsop an experienced political leader, has been appointed as my political adviser. I have appointed Ms Allsop to provide expertise and work with the political members to develop and strengthen working relationships. At the end of the initial phase of the support, Ms Allsop will also provide a report setting out her findings”.
The Minister confirmed that this initial phase of work is funded by the Welsh Government, in order to get a clearer picture of the improvement journey that lies ahead. We anticipate an initial report being published in September. In our discussion with the Minister, we were able to clarify that the scale and length of the work that may be required can only be determined after the report of these independent advisers is received.
However, as the local AM and MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, and with our extensive past experience of local government, we know that the severity of the problems described in the letter from the Wales Audit Office (which you can read here), and the work required to turn around local authorities that are in such difficulties, can take years. The process also requires openness and a willingness to change on the part of the Council.
As we have said from the outset of this situation, our priority is to see safe and sustainable services provided for our constituents. When we next meet Council Leader Kevin O’Neill in early August, this will be our straightforward message, because the status quo is clearly not an option in the light of the problems identified by the Wales Audit Office.
We will continue to keep in contact with the Council and the Welsh Government and work together with them in any way we can going forward.