Local Government Reform
Plenary Tuesday 18 July 201716:56:15
Spoken Contribution – 16:56:15
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Thanks, Minister, for your statement today. Local government reform brings with it an opportunity and I think reforms could work well as long as the main aim is to bring local government closer to the people it serves. So, the issue of localism, I think, is key.
Now, you’ve highlighted a bigger role for town and community councils. I think that is a promising path to go down in some cases. In rural and semi-rural areas, these councils can play a strong and relevant role, and you mentioned the way in which they have, in some cases, saved local libraries and other services by taking over their running. That kind of action is certainly to be recommended when local services are threatened. But what would be your recommended course of action when services are under threat in more urban areas that don’t have community councils? What would be the role, for instance, of voluntary groups, which could serve a very relevant role, but would there be issues there of democracy and a democratic mandate to run things? I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.
As you point out, there is a mixed bag of town and community councils across Wales. So, again, what happens when local services are under threat in an area where the local community council isn’t doing much? Given that so many services are threatened nowadays, should there be some kind of handbook of action from you, as a Minister, as to how local services can best be defended in these instances?
As to your proposed changes to the conduct of elections in Wales, I look forward to hearing your thoughts at the end of the consultation period. Clearly, you are committed to trying to bring about certain specific changes such as the voting age, whilst you are more open-minded on others. I think there is a lot to discuss on the changes to election rules and we will probably have a robust debate on these kinds of proposals later in the year. But I hope you do tread carefully as you consider pertinent issues like internet security.
I think most Members would agree that being an election returning officer should be a statutory duty of a council chief executive and should be part of his or her regular workload, without any additional payments involved. So, I tend to agree with you on that point and I hope you press on with that.
On the issue of council employees being able to stand as candidates, I believe people like dinner ladies and lollipop men and other people in similar roles should be allowed to stand in council elections, so a change to the rules here would be commendable, as Janet Finch-Saunders has brought to light, and as you’ve done very well in bringing in as part of your proposals. The question is: at what level of local government officer do you draw the line on eligibility? I wonder if you would give me your thoughts on where exactly you feel that line should be drawn.
On the issue of independent councillors, I think it is a fair point that, if they are party members, the public has a right to know. How do you intend to elicit this information and what will happen to candidates who fail to disclose party membership?
On the subject of AMs doubling up as councillors, I think this is a contentious point. As I’ve never been a councillor, I’m not really qualified to judge whether you can successfully do both. You yourself were once a councillor and are now an AM, but never simultaneously, as far as I know. But I know of at least one Member here who did both jobs for a few years, so I think it is not impossible to double up. The problem may be that the AM salary is certainly a full-time salary. So, perhaps, if an AM wants to remain as a councillor, there should be a prohibition on claiming the councillor salary so that if he or she wants to remain as a councillor, the council duties would be undertaken as unpaid duties. So, I wonder whether you think that might be an acceptable compromise in this instance. Thank you.