AN OUTGOING chief executive believes the number of Welsh councils should be slashed but has warned that any more funding cuts will leave cash-strapped authorities unable to function.

Speaking in the last week of his £127,000 a year job that he has held since 2008, Dr Mohammed Mehmet welcomed the Welsh Government's plan to slash the number of councils from 22 to 10.

But something radical needed to be done to save council run services after years of local government funding cuts - otherwise services like libraries and even leisure centres will have to be run by volunteers.

Dr Mehmet said: "We're facing another four or five years of cuts so we've been making cuts for the last six or seven years and there does come a point beyond which you can't do it by efficiencies and rationalisation alone, the system is unsustainable.

"There will come a point where we're cutting into major services and I think having 22 authorities with all the overheads, with all the expenditure in the various senior posts while you're cutting services is not right."

Dr Mehmet supported merging Denbighshire with Conwy, under previous proposals which were withdrawn by Cardiff in October 2016.

He added: "All of us are too small to continue to deliver a full range of things."

Last year the amount of money the Welsh Government gave to the country's 22 county councils was £4.2 billion, down 0.5 per cent on the previous year's grant.

But for Denbighshire the cut was 0.9 per cent, according to Dr Mehmet this was a real terms cut of 3 per cent.

Residents in the county have felt the brunt of the cuts with the authority raising council tax by 4.75 per cent this year.

For the average Band D property, this means an increase of £56.58 which equates to £1.08p a week.

He said: "I think local authorities have been taking more than their fair share of the pain.

"Everybody knows it has been difficult for the whole of the public sector. But local government over the last few years has been taking a larger proportion of the cuts than other parts of the public sector in Wales.

"We're at the point now where the next round of cuts is going to hurt more than what we've managed so far."

Dr Mehmet felt unless there was change councils will only be able to deliver on important services like education and environment.

"Leisure, libraries, all of those services are important but they are not statutory they could be provided by third sector or others. You could rationalise further. Those are things councils are going to have to look at in terms of what is really important.

"It's a finite pot and if you keep cutting into it you will cut into important services. We're approaching a scenario where we're expecting people to pay more taxes and we're reducing services and that's quite a difficult message to be giving people."

On top salaries in local government Dr Mehmet said criticism is inevitable but he didn't think lowering wages would help attract the best people to the job.

He said: "Chief executives don't decide their pay, we just apply for jobs like everybody else so other people decide whether it's too much or too little.

"I would guess that chief executives in local government probably aren't paid more than in other major public services or the private sector.

"I don't think the solution is to have chief executives that don't get paid, I think the solution is to have fewer chief executives and councils."

Former probation Judith Greenhalgh boss, from Manchester, is to take over Dr Mehmet's role.

But the leader of Gwynedd Council expressed doubt that merging authorities will make the savings needed to allow authorities to continue to deliver services sustainably.

Under the proposals Gwynedd could merge with Anglesey, councillor Dyfrig Siencyn said.

“As has been seen in England, changes in the structure of local government to create larger authorities without the necessary resources is not a sustainable solution to the problems councils face."

He added, “Much work is already taking place in the north Wales region in terms of collaboration and working in partnership, and I fear that another round of discussions regarding local government reorganisation could potentially cut across this important work.

“This latest announcement from the Welsh Government is a further change in policy on this issue, and will inevitably lead to uncertainty in councils across Wales."