At a meeting of Denbighshire's full council today (Tuesday), members agreed to support the idea of starting discussions with Conwy County Borough Council about exploring the possibility of a voluntary merger.
Like all local councils in Wales, Denbighshire is currently planning for unprecedented cuts to jobs and services over the next three years, with the prospect of austerity until 2022.
At the same time, the Welsh Government's White Paper for Local Government Reform forces the council to choose between voluntary merger with another council by April 2018 - or the prospect of compulsory merger by April 2020.
During the meeting, Denbighshire's Chief Executive, Mohammed Mehmet, told members the strategic decision facing the Council is whether, given the very challenging financial context, it is in its interest to pursue the option of voluntary merger, especially if that option could help to reduce the level of cuts the council is currently facing.
He added: "Alternatively, the council could reject the voluntary merger option and concentrate its resources on managing the cuts and maintaining services without being distracted by a merger, at least for the next three years. The choice is a difficult one and should not be made without serious consideration."
The White Paper consultation period closes on 1 October 2014 and members agreed that, subject to reaching agreement with Conwy County Council, both councils proceed to develop a joint expression of interest to voluntarily merge by April 2018 and to submit this expression of interest to Welsh Government by November 2014, provided the two councils can:
* Secure a substantial financial and support package from Welsh Government that is binding; and
* That once the two authorities and Welsh Government agree the statement of intent in November 2015 that the agreement is binding on all three partners.
The ‘substantial financial and support package’ referred to will be negotiated with Welsh Government and put before both Denbighshire and Conwy members to consider before agreeing to proceed.
If these conditions can be secured then that would allow both councils to reduce the level of cuts to services and avoid the possible failure of the project either because of local disagreements or change of position by Welsh Government. If they cannot be secured then the risks of voluntary merger are too high.