Local Government Reform in Wales

Publish date: 11/01/2017

During the term of the last Assembly, The Welsh Government pursued a policy of introducing legislation to reduce the number of Welsh Unitary Local Authorities from 22 down to 8 or 9 . Legislation was passed empowering WG to combine Authorities and enabling the Boundary Commission for Wales to make the necessary electoral arrangements. LLG Wales Branch participated in consultation on this piece of legislation and also sent a representative to give evidence to the Senedd Committee scrutinising the legislation. Gareth Owens, Chair of LLG Welsh Branch examines the role LLG is playing in the reforms. Click for more information

During the term of the last Assembly, Welsh Government pursued a policy of introducing legislation to reduce the number of Welsh Unitary Local Authorities from 22 down to 8 or 9 .Legislation was passed empowering WG to combine Authorities and enabling the Boundary Commission for Wales to make the necessary electoral arrangements. LLG Wales Branch participated in consultation on this piece of legislation and also sent a representative to give evidence to the Senedd Committee scrutinising the legislation.

A further draft Local Government Bill was introduced in the Senedd which made legislative provision as to how the mergers would take effect. It also made provision for further wide-ranging reform of Local Government covering diverse topics including :

  1. Providing for the constitution of County Councils in Wales
  2. Applying the general power of competence
  3. Giving town/community council competence in some cases
  4. A statutory duty to promote participation in democracy
  5. Statutory duties on councillors to attend training, hold surgeries and answer correspondence
  6. "improved governance" in the form of a. mandatory corporate plans b. combined inspections by regulators

c. the power for WG to undertake governance reviews in County Councils

Current Context

Following the Welsh Assembly elections in May 2016 it was clear that the new Welsh Government did not have the political support to pursue the reduction in County Council numbers .The new minister with responsibility for Local Government, Professor Mark Drakeford, has given a commitment that the current number of County Councils will remain at 22 for at least 2 terms (the next 10 years) but reform is still on the table in some guise. The tentative vision is for the number of County Council to remain the same but with greater collaboration between them and with third parties such as Health Authorities where appropriate on the provision of key services. At the WLGA Conference on 3 November 2016 Prof Drakeford announced the timetable for reform – see statement attached. He is seeking to agree a consensus on what the proposals will include by the end of the calendar year with formal consultation early in the New Year, prior to the Local Government elections in May 2017.Draft legislation would be introduced in the second year of the Assembly term. These proposals are being couched in much more collaborative language than was previously the case and the Minister seems genuinely keen to work by consensus. Informal discussions with civil servants indicate that large parts of the previous draft Local Government Bill will be brought forward again. The senior civil servant responsible is keen to discuss the proposals with the Wales Branch and will be attending our meeting on 2 December to update us on the programme. Role for LLG There will be a formal consultation in early 2017 on how services are to be delivered. This will be in terms of county councils being the "front door" for services which will be delivered in some cases on a collaborative basis or by by town/community councils and third sector. Behind the scenes there will be a mandatory shared service arrangements at a regional level. It is unclear at this stage which, if any, of the wider proposals contained within the previous draft Local Government Bill will feature in new legislation. The consultation on the overarching vision and arrangements will be a formal public consultation to which LLG will be able to respond from a governance perspective. For example the governance and accountability arrangements for mandatory shared regional services are unclear at the moment and will need to be transparent to the public should they come into force. Clearly, colleagues from England with experience of combined Authorities will be able to share valuable learning and insight to that process. The Wales Branch has established relationships and lines of communication with WG, which recognises that LLG speaks on behalf of the legal profession across all Local Authorities in Wales. Whilst WG will select legislative drafting issues on which it wishes to seek the views of the Wales Branch, there will again be scope for LLG to submit responses to any formal consultation about the imposition of new duties. The Wales branch also has strong links with the WLGA, and the Wales branch of SOLACE. Co-ordination of responses will be possible, and may be advisable, to ensure a cohesive and unified message from local government.

Conclusion

The Branch will inevitably debate the consultation generally at its branch meetings, inviting civil servants to branch meetings to understand and discuss the proposals. It will respond to the formal consultation under the LLG brand and will also work with civil servants around any specific legislative drafting issues on which they seek our views. As was previously the case, LLG will also seek to participate in the scrutiny of any legislation in the Senedd.