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Agenda Item No

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

Cabinet Meeting: 27 April, 2015

Report of the Leader

The Council's Response to the White Paper "Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People"

Purpose of the Report

1. To seek Cabinet approval for the proposed response to the White Paper "Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People". 

Recommendations

1. That the proposed response (Appendix A) is submitted to Welsh Government.

 

2. That Cabinet authorises the use of article 13.9 of the Council's constitution (urgent decision procedure) to submit the response to Welsh Government by 28 April 2015. 

Reasons for the Recommendations

1. So that the Council apprises Welsh Government of its views on a large number of issues relating to the future of local government in Wales.

 

2. So that the response is submitted by Welsh Government's 28 April deadline.   

Background

3. The White Paper "Reforming Local Government:  Power to Local People" is available on the Welsh Government website at the following link:

http://gov.wales/docs/dsjlg/consultation/150203-power-to-local-people-fullv2-en.pdf

and is available in the Member’s Room. The document is the Welsh Government's statement of intent about the future of local government in Wales.  The White Paper sets out Welsh Government's proposals for making changes in the following fields:  local democracy, the roles and remuneration of Elected Members and senior officers, community governance and Community Councils, community rights, corporate improvement, service performance, scrutiny, audit, inspection and regulation, and finance.

 

4. Welsh Government published the White Paper on 3 February 2015;  responses are required by 28 April 2015.  In order for the Council to give as informed a response as possible, the White Paper was given a wide circulation locally.  It was referred for comments to Corporate Resources Scrutiny Committee, Democratic Services Committee, Standards Committee, Audit Committee, Community Liaison Committee, Voluntary Sector Joint Liaison Committee and the Vale of Glamorgan Local Service Board.

Relevant Issues and Options

5. The following describes the main points made by the consultees listed above:  

Corporate Resources Scrutiny Committee

To be tabled at the Cabinet meeting as the Scrutiny Committee met after the deadline for submitting Cabinet papers.

Democratic Services Committee

The Committee felt that there was insufficient recognition in the White Paper of the good work and levels of performance already being achieved in local government, that much of the contents of the White Paper was already being implemented, and that the isolated events in a very small number of Councils had led to inappropriate generalisations about local government as a whole.

The Committee also disagreed with the specific proposals in relation to fixed terms for Chief Executives and similar proposals in respect of Councillors, the disincentives for potential Councillors (including full time carers), Area Boards as additional and confusing tiers of bureaucracy, powers of "competency" in respect of Town and Community Councils, and increasing the number of co-optees with voting rights. 

Standards Committee

The Committee agreed with the proposal that the powers of Standards Committees should be enhanced to enable them to consider cases where there is an allegation of a Councillor failing to fulfil their duties satisfactorily, and that this should be done by being granted the power to disqualify Councillors in addition to the existing power to suspend.  The Committee agreed there was a role for an independent body in the event of the failure of internal processes and that body should be the Adjudication Panel for Wales.  However, more clarity was required.

 

The Committee felt that, to widen the pool of potential candidates, serving local authority officers should be able to stand for election to their own Council, and resign if elected.  

Audit Committee

The Committee opposed the proposed changes to Audit Committees, saying that a greater number of independent members would lead to a reduced understanding of the Council by those Committees, and that their "independence" would simply mean that they were non-elected, not unbiased.  It was agreed that the great majority of members of Audit Committees should continue to be democratically elected. 

 

The Committee also discussed the proposals for self-assessment and peer review.  They warned against the danger of excessive bureaucracy that the proposals seemed to entail, and said that the emphasis should be on risk assessment, with Councils who could prove their effectiveness being subject to a more "light touch" approach. 

Community Liaison Committee

Concerns were raised at the proposals for reorganising Town and Community Councils since a number of such Councils in the Vale of Glamorgan would be unable to pass the capacity test but were nonetheless an important part of local democracy, and the resulting loss of local identity would undermine that democracy.  This was true particularly in rural areas.  Concern was also expressed about the difference between the Vale and Cardiff Council areas in the event of a merger:  the former contained a significant number of Town and Community Councils while the latter did not.

 

Area Boards were firmly opposed; the Committee could not understand the requirement for an additional, unnecessary tier of local government.  Since Area Boards would contain a much smaller number of Councillors this would also weaken local democracy. 

Voluntary Sector Joint Liaison Committee

The Executive Director of the Vale Centre for Voluntary Services (VCVS) said that a list of community assets in the Vale of Glamorgan would be helpful in assisting organisations who are interested in the transfer of assets and services and help the Council to gauge interest.  She also drew attention to the budget cuts already being made by voluntary organisations and the need to be clear about the costs involved in the transfer of services.

 

The Committee made the point that greater activism and engagement in communities would be needed, including greater diversity, but that the White Paper would not in itself accomplish this.  One of the main challenges would be capacity building within communities.  It had been demonstrated in the Vale of Glamorgan, e.g. by the Vale Market Action Group in respect of proposals for developing Cowbridge cattle market, how good ideas could be generated, and that it was up to the Council and voluntary groups together to come up with solutions.

 

The Executive Director of VCVS said that time and effort were needed to develop community capacity, and that resources would need to be invested initially if substantial savings were to be achieved in the long term.

Vale of Glamorgan Local Service Board

The LSB were of the view that the White Paper was essentially a matter for local government and had no additional comments. 

 

6. Having regard to the above comments (although not necessarily agreeing with them), a response has been formulated and is attached as Appendix A for Cabinet's consideration.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

7. None directly arising from this report.  Chapter 9 of the White Paper is concerned with "Reforming Local Government Finance", but only asks broad questions in advance of a future review.  The reorganisation of Councils is not covered in the White Paper - Welsh Government proposals in this regard are expected shortly. 

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

8. The White Paper refers to the Well Being of Future Generations Bill as providing a foundation for setting priorities for Wales.  The Bill encompasses sustainable development and climate change. 

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

9. None arising from this report.  The White Paper contains a large number of proposals, only some of which will presumably be enacted.  Subsequent legislation would be introduced after the Assembly elections of May 2016. 

Crime and Disorder Implications

10. None arising from this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

11. None arising from this report, although the White Paper contains several allusions to equal opportunities in areas such as the diversity of Elected Members and the nature of community involvement. 

Corporate/Service Objectives

12. The Council's proposed response draws attention to the alignment of the vision it sets out with the Council's recent expression of interest for a voluntary merger with Bridgend Council, and with the Council's Reshaping Services strategy, which has at its core the need to develop new ways of service delivery in partnership with communities.

Policy Framework and Budget

13. This is a matter for Executive decision. 

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

14. Council Members and external organisations have been consulted as per paragraph 4 above, but individual Ward Members have not been consulted directly.    

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

15. Corporate Resources

Background Papers

None

Contact Officer

Huw Isaac, Head of Performance and Development, 01446709760 

Officers Consulted

Corporate Management Team

Responsible Officer:

Sian Davies, Managing Director

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