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Agenda Item No.

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET: 27TH APRIL, 2015

 

REFERENCE FROM DEMOCRATIC SERVICES COMMITTEE: 15TH APRIL, 2015

 

“ WHITE PAPER: “REFORMING LOCAL GOVERNMENT: POWER TO LOCAL PEOPLE”  (REF) –

 

The White Paper “Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People” represented Welsh Government’s statement of intent regarding the future of local government in Wales.  The White Paper set out Welsh Government’s proposals for making changes in the following fields:  Local Democracy, 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. 

 

The White Paper had been published on 3rd February 2015, with responses required by 28th April 2015.  In order for the Council to give as informed a response as possible, the White Paper was being been submitted for consideration to the Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources), Standards Committee, Audit Committee, Community Liaison Committee, Voluntary Sector Joint Liaison Committee and the Vale of Glamorgan Local Service Board in addition to the Democratic Services Committee.

 

The Head of Democratic Services alluded to the extremely wide-ranging nature of the White Paper and he invited Members to indicate how they considered the matter might most appropriately be discussed. 

 

In response, there was an acknowledgement across those Members present that the nature of the White Paper meant that, in their view, it was impractical to consider each and every element which could be deemed to fall within the remit of the Committee.  With this in mind, Members agreed that their discussion would take place on a “thematic” basis.  Members of the Committee, across the political parties represented at the meeting, expressed numerous concerns regarding the overall nature, rationale of the White Paper, as well as a number of inferences it contained which they considered to be highly inappropriate.   During the ensuing discussion, these concerns were elaborated upon and, in summary, included the following:

  • In many respects, Members considered the White Paper to be inconsistent,  unrealistic and to contain numerous “themes” which were open to challenge.
  • It was considered that the White Paper failed to acknowledge, and seriously undermined, the good work and levels of performance within Local Government in its existing format.  Members felt that this was the case, not just in terms of the Council’s own performance, but Welsh Local Authorities in general.  It was considered that the Council was, indeed, already implementing much of what was contained in the White paper
  • Consequently, the premise that could be drawn from the White Paper that Local Government in Wales was, somehow, in a poor state, was totally wrong.
  • Members felt that the White Paper was, in many instances, undermining the very “product” (e.g. local government, Members and officers) that it purported to be looking to enhance.
  • Reference was made to the White Paper lacking evidence to support much of its content and to it, in some respects, appearing to represent more of a consultation document rather than a formal White Paper.
  • Members considered that isolated events within a very small number of Local Authorities had led to inappropriate generalisations within the White Paper in terms of Members, officers and Councils as a whole.

As alluded to above, Members considered that it was impractical to deal with each and every issue covered within the White Paper.  Furthermore, there was a general view amongst Members that the accompanying questionnaire, which had been circulated with the White Paper, was an inappropriate means of being able to provide a meaningful response.  Reference was made to the significant number of “closed” questions and to a potentially distorted picture being capable of being drawn from simply analysing responses to the questionnaire.  Notwithstanding this, and in addition to the generic concerns outlined above, Members also expressed concern regarding certain particular proposals on which views were sought within the White Paper.  These included:

  • The suggestion that the term of office of Chief Executives be limited
  • Similarly, the suggestion that Councillors should only be allowed to serve for a fixed number of terms
  • The extreme difficulty faced by people in full-time careers who might seek to become a Councillor
  • The disincentives to potential councillors
  • Their  view that the move towards achieving a reduction in the overall number of Councillors should be accompanied by a greater acknowledgement (rather than a reduction in remuneration) of the level of commitment required
  • Concern regarding the concept of “area structures” and additional layers of bureaucracy and potential confusion arising from proposals such as the introduction of  Public Accounts Committees
  • Reference to the fact that proposed powers of competency for Town and Community Councils could only possibly be relevant to two of the 26 Councils currently existing within the Vale of Glamorgan and, consequently, to the potential “knock on” effect on the vast majority of the remaining much smaller Councils.
  • The suggestion regarding increasing the number of co-opted members with voting rights (given the fact that it was the Council Members themselves who held the democratically-elected mandate on behalf of their constituents and the residents of the Vale of Glamorgan as a whole)
  • The potential impact on staff morale of certain of the proposals set out in the White Paper.

RESOLVED – T H A T the concerns of the Democratic Services Committee, as set out above, be recorded and submitted to Cabinet on 27th April 2015 for consideration as part of the Council’s overall response to the White Paper.

 

Reason for decision

 

To ensure the views of the Committee are recorded and to inform the Council’s overall response to the White Paper.

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