- it is not about merging the two authorities;
- it is not a "take over" by Gwynedd;
- and it is "not primarily a response to or a solution to Anglesey's [governance] problems."
Its worth noting however that the use of the word 'primarily' does clearly indicate that WAG sees some form of greater collaboration with Gwynedd as a partial solution to Ynys Môn's issues. This is reinforced by this section of the statement: "if Anglesey’s members and officers show the leadership and commitment necessary to make it succeed, it will be powerful evidence of progress towards a sustainable recovery." Presumably the implicit message here is that not showing such "leadership and commitment" would indicate the opposite.
What will this mean in practice? Well, Carl Sargeant notes that Anglesey and Gwynedd already have a good record of working together, having operated a single education support service for many years and are currently also cooperating in developing a new joint Local Development Plan. However he wants both counties to go much further and look at "the full integration of major services" and "moving towards a shared senior management team". This means that in all probability there will be no direct successor to Anglesey's Interim MD, David Bowles -- the highest paid civil servant in Wales. Instead it is now far more likely that Gwynedd Council chief executive, Harry Thomas, could become the joint head of both Councils. Furthermore in order to unlock the kind of savings which Sargeant is after, there would also presumably need to be further rationalisation of Service Heads between the two councils.
Councillors will not be effected -- Sargeant's statement says, "I have no wish to reduce democratic autonomy; I want to help safeguard essential services. If this programme is implemented, both councils would continue to exist as separate democratic entities. Councillors would have the same range of responsibilities as they do now, and would be accountable to local people in the same way."
The Leaders of Anglesey and Gwynedd councils, Clive McGregor and Dyfed Edwards, have already issued a joint statement indicating their "willingness to consider" moving forward, and a joint 'scoping study' will now take place to identify exactly what collaboration of services and senior management is possible. The results of this study will be reported back to WAG in February 2011.
Personally I am in favour of greater collaboration and greater sharing of resources between the two councils. It is clearly not acceptable for taxpayers in the UK's poorest locale to pay the wages of Wales's most expensive civil servant. However, as I have often argued in this blog, I would be against any kind of more wide-ranging merger of the two councils. It is imperative that Ynys Môn retains its separate identity as I don't believe that its quite specific needs and problems could be addressed as effectively by a larger, 'super-council'.
You can read the full statement by Carl Sargeant, and the terms of reference of the scoping report below.
Written Statement by the Welsh Assembly Government