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Matter Which the Chairman has decided is urgent by reason of the need to meet Welsh Government’s Consultation Deadline of 28th April, 2015

  

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET: 27TH APRIL, 2015

 

REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (CORPORATE RESOURCES): 21ST 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 Performance and Development alluded to the extremely wide-ranging nature of the White Paper and to the fact that the Scrutiny Committee was the last to consider the above proposals. He considered that many of the proposals contained within the White Paper fell within the remit of Scrutiny Committee and accordingly invited Members to comment on the same.

 

In response, a numbers of Members indicated that they, as members of other Committees subject of the same consultation exercise, had already made their specific views known and reiterated concerns made at those meetings that 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, the Chairman suggested and supported by Members that their discussion would take place on a themed basis.  Members of the Committee, across the political groups represented at the meeting, expressed numerous concerns regarding the overall nature; rationale of the White Paper, as well as a number of assumptions contained therein which they considered to be undemocratic and undermined some of the key principles which the Welsh Government alleged that it was setting out to achieve e.g. diversity and greater local democratic accountability.  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 felt that the consultation was already bias and was based on a presumption in favour of existing WG policy. It was considered that the whole process was prescriptive and regardless to views made, they would merely be ignored by the Minister without any credible justification. Reference was made to the WG voluntary merger arrangements and the Register of Interests process as an example.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • There was a keen sense that the WG briefings held recently across Wales to explain to Members/ Officers the rationale behind the White Paper, should have been held much earlier in the WG consultation timetable and the “drip” effect of information had only led to Members further concerns regarding the manner in which Local Government in Wales was being portrayed by the WG to the media and the public.

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 extreme difficulty faced by people in full-time careers who might seek to become a Councillor. The WG negative generalisation/ portrayal would only serve to further undermine its own efforts to increase diversity and also to attract younger and more professional individuals to stand for election.
  • 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 Committee particularly relating to improved transparency and accountability. There was also concern relating to the potential for duplication between Area Committees and Town/ Community Councils where service delivery opportunities arose.
  • 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 current existing within the Vale of Glamorgan and, consequently, to the potential “knock on” effect on the vast majority of the remaining much smaller Councils, who were likely to view such proposals as undemocratic, inequitable and marginalising local communities.
  • 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). This appeared to run counter to the WG aspirations as set out in the White Paper regarding greater local accountability.
  • Proposals to end the existence “Twin Hatted” Councillors failed to acknowledge the experience accumulated, with many Members political careers starting from serving on Town/ Community Councils.
  • The cycle for future Elections as proposed was not supported with a concern that the public would experience “election fatigue” with the potential for further exacerbating low polling turnouts.
  • The potential impact on staff morale of certain of the proposals set out in the White Paper.
  • The lack of application of the White Paper proposals such as Term Times, Power of Recall etc. to other democratically elected bodies e.g. Welsh Assembly.

RESOLVED – T H A T the concerns of the Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources), as set out above, be submitted 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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