A SHAKE-up of council boundaries in Wales could see a return of something which looks very similar to the old Gwent County Council that was broken up nearly 20 years ago.

Welsh local government minister Leighton Andrews has announced a consultation on a new council map which would reduce the current 22 authorities to eight or nine.

In both scenarios, Monmouthshire would be combined with Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Newport and Torfaen councils.

The proposals have been condemned by the leader of Conservative-led Monmouthshire and the heads of Labour authorities.

Mr Andrews (Lab, Rhondda) said: "I want to emphasise this is not a final decision, it is the next phase in discussions.

"Following discussion of these options, we will publish and consult on a draft 'mergers and reform' Bill in the autumn."

Monmouthshire Council leader Peter Fox (Con, Portskewett) said: " My position has not changed in that from the outset of this debate I have always maintained that while some reform of local government may be needed, the proposed approach of just merging councils is naive, simplistic and lacks vision.

"I believe strongly in retaining localism, local accountability and preserving a sense of local identity.

"I do not believe that bigger is better. I do however think that some services could be delivered regionally and strongly believe that combined authorities or similar are the way forward, especially here in south east Wales.

"This model of governance would see huge economies of scale through many important council functions delivered regionally and this way forward could be established easily by building on the good relationships that are already established between the south east Wales councils.

"This approach wouldn't cost the many millions of pounds that merging councils would cost.

"This whole debate – one of moving the political deck chairs around – is a massive distraction at a time when councils are having to preserve services with ever-decreasing resources.

"Over the coming months and years I do not want to see councils focusing inwardly as they deal with the huge complexities and cost of council mergers which will take the focus off the very important bigger picture here in Wales.

"The Wales government needs to think again on this and should direct its attention to more pressing things such as driving real economic growth and creating a real sense of aspiration and hope for the people of Wales."