Local Government Reform
Plenary Tuesday 31 January 201715:34:00
We want local people to decide on local planning
Spoken Contribution – 15:34:00
Thanks to the Minister for his statement today. We in UKIP broadly support the intention to reduce the bureaucracy of local government, while, at the same time, striving to preserve some meaningful link between elected local councillors and their constituents. As with most things in politics, this reorganisation needs to be a balancing act. On one hand, we have public concerns over too many administrators, whose work is replicated currently by 22 different departments in Wales, many of them essentially doing the same thing. On the other hand, if we went down the route that the last local government Minister, Leighton Andrews, advocated, then we would end up with eight or nine councils. I fear this outcome may have fatally and irreparably broken the relationship between local members and their electorate.
We have problems enough with councillors trying to represent their communities, notably in the area of planning. For years, local members have tried to fight planning applications, only for the council to be advised by the planning directors that, ‘We will probably lose this one on appeal if we vote against it’, and the developer duly wins his application. So, the local members have little enough influence as it is, and reducing the number of councils to eight or nine would only render them ever more impotent. Really, what we need in the planning process are legally binding local referenda, which is UKIP policy, and we would urge the Minister to look at this in future, if he does genuinely want to empower local people in decisions that have a major bearing on their communities.
Going back to the specific proposals presented today, on paper they do seem to represent a reasonable basis on which to begin what will, clearly, be complicated negotiations with the 22 local authorities. We have to ensure that the Welsh council tax payer gets better value for money, and that we do reduce excess numbers of administrators. At the same time, we cannot be cavalier over this, bearing in mind, as we must, that these are people’s jobs. It’s another balancing act, as is the task of manoeuvring the councils delicately towards implementing more shared services.
We await the eventual outcome of the local government reorganisation keenly, but we are also keen that the Minister ends up with the standardised rulebook that he has spoken of regarding the operation of the joint regional committees, or the joint governance committees, as he calls them. We agree with the principle that all substantive decisions have to be made by elected members, and not officers, and we want to avoid rendering decision making more cumbersome. So, we support the concept that the regional committee itself makes the decisions, and does not simply make recommendations that then have to go back to the respective local councils.
We also have mention for the first time from the Minister of a putative proposal to allow councils to introduce the single transferable vote, or STV, at their own elections, if they so wish. We don’t think this goes far enough, but we do very much welcome the Minister’s movement in this direction. We also like the proposal to allow councils to decide, if they wish, to go back to the old system of governance by committee, rather than council cabinet. Many council tax payers recall with fondness the old system, and would welcome the chance to return to it.
In closing, there is still a long way to go to put this whole reorganisation plan into practice. But this statement does seem to represent a reasonable starting point. Thank you.