Last week the Welsh Government pulled the Local Government Bill from the agenda, with all opposition parties united in saying they would block it.
But apparently the bill has now been re-tabled for a stage four vote next Tuesday – which would allow it to become law, despite no apparent deal to get it through.
A Labour source said that Leighton Andrews, public services minister in charge of local government, is speaking to Plaid Cymru Mid and West Wales AM Simon Thomas.
We can only wonder why this "Source" should leak what appears to be secret negotiations
The source described the talks as “constructive” but said it is still possible that the law could be pulled from the agenda again. The bill is not time sensitive, the source added.
It does not appear that talks are taking place with the Welsh Conservatives, who want local referendums before mergers go ahead, or the Liberal Democrats, who want voting reform.
Labour is in a minority in the Assembly and need at least one other AM to vote with them or abstain to get legislation passed.
Simon Thomas said that the
“way things are at the moment we would be voting against” the bill.He refused to comment on whether talks are taking place.
A Plaid Cymru party source said, however:
“We’ll do whatever we can to ensure Labour can’t push through their costly, ill-thought-out reorganisation before the election.”
Mr Thomas had said last month that:
“The idea that we should be legislating for voluntary mergers when three came forward and the government said no to them, it’s taking the p*** a bit with the Assembly, to be honest with you, as a legislative body.”Peter Black, Welsh Lib Dem spokesman for local government said:
“We will not support this bill without fairer votes for local elections and powers being devolved to our communities. I sincerely hope that the other parties won’t back down for any less.”Welsh Conservative shadow local government minister Janet-Finch Saunders said:
“This stop-start vote is shrouded in a veil of secrecy.”A Welsh Government spokeswoman said:
“We are continuing discussions and when those are concluded we will proceed to a vote at stage four.”
It seems unlikely that the Assembly Labour Government would put this back on the Table if they didn't think it had a chance of getting through unless it is simply to show the difference between them and other parties.
If Plaid were to do a U turn then we can only presume that some shady backdoor deal is being hammered out and Plaid get something substantial out of it. Though a change to Single Transferable Voting like the system for Sottish Councils even as an aspiration seems unlikely. Maybe local referendums but then it would probably be the Conservatives or LibDems involved.
So maybe it simply a deal preventing a the Welsh Government from a veto on agreed voluntary mergers.
The Local Government Bill would allow voluntary council mergers to be implemented – although none are on the table at the moment.
It would also not allow for the compulsory mergers suggested by public services minister Leighton Andrews’ map for eight or nine authorities published earlier this year.
A further bill has been proposed for the latter.
We can only wait and see what if anything will emerge.