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Wales White Paper Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People

The long awaited White Paper on the reform of local government in Wales entitled ‘Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People’  has  been published by the Welsh Government and is open for consultation until the end of April.

Whilst much relates to Principal Authorities and Area Boards, there is a very important section on Community Councils as per the extract at the foot of this e-mail. The Government have also published some interesting headline facts relating to the sector, again copied below.

SLCC Chief Executive, Howard Midworth, commented: “The good news is that the government clearly wants to see Community Councils being more ambitious, working in partnership, to see themselves as being part of public services in Wales and to be more actively involved in work supporting vulnerable groups. Therefore a larger and more significant role for the sector is envisaged. However, they believe that this can only be done if there are fewer, larger Community Councils,and that smaller Councils should look at joining together to form larger Councils covering wider areas. They want to Local Authorities to review the role, structure and governance of Community Councils in their area with a view to reducing the overall number, with a target date for completion of 2022.”

The White Paper  has also raised the proposal that Community Councils should have to pass a set of competency tests on democracy, capability, capacity and governance; those that pass the tests will have extra rights and responsibilities whereas those that don’t should look to join with other Community Councils. The proposed tests have parallels with the General Power of Competence tests currently in place in England, but with some significant differences such as a proposed minimum annual budget of £200k. (which seems rather high, as less than 10% are currently above this level). Importantly, a ‘competent’ Community Council would not be subject to the section 137 limits of the LGA 1972 and would not necessarily be subject to any capping of the precept.

Significantly for Clerks and the Society, one of the tests might include a capability test which proposes that the Community Council must employ a clerk with relevant professional qualifications. Relevant qualifications might include Certificate in Local Council Administration; Certificate of Higher Education in Local Policy; Certificate of Higher Education in Local Council Administration; the first level of the foundation degree in Community Engagement and Governance awarded by the University of Gloucestershire; or qualifying professional status such as a lawyer or accountant.  

The Society will be studying the full document in detail over the coming weeks, discussing with One Voice Wales, and preparing the Society response to the White Paper. All members in Wales are encouraged to ensure their Councils respond directly to the consultation, and also to make the Society aware of your views to assist in preparing our response as the professional body for the Town and Community Council sector. Mark Galbraith at Llanelli Rural will be leading the project to co-ordinate the Society response, and we will aim to set up a briefing meeting for clerks in Wales attended by Welsh Government officials.

In summary Howard says: “There is much that is positive in the White Paper for the sector overall, although I appreciate that many of our members in smaller Councils will have some concerns. It is encouraging to note that many topics the sector bodies have been discussing and lobbying for with the Welsh Government have been included in the proposals. This is a real opportunity to contribute to shaping the future of the sector in Wales, to ensure that Community Councils play a greater part in the future of local government and for our members to play a greater role in serving local communities.”

The White Paper and the online consultation survey can be accessed via the Welsh Government websitehttp://wales.gov.uk/consultations/localgovernment/power-to-local-people/?lang=en

And the Welsh version at http://wales.gov.uk/consultations/localgovernment/power-to-local-people/?lang=cy

 

Extract from summary White Paper

4.3 Community Councils

There are 735 Community Councils in Wales. Community Councils work at the town or village level and some serve a very small area. We believe this is too many and the smaller ones simply don’t have the resources to get much done. One strength of Community Councils is that they’re closer to local people, however, they aren’t always open and don’t always involve the public they serve. In principle they are democratic bodies and for this reason they can raise local taxes, but in reality there is no competition for the vast majority of seats in Community Council elections.

4.4 Local Authorities review of Community Councils

There’s a lot of good work that Community Councils do. However, we think there is a clear case for making changes. We want Community Councils to be more ambitious and work in partnership with other community groups. We want them to be open about the decisions they are making and involve the people in their area. We need them to see themselves as part of public services in Wales, and be more actively involved in work that support families, children and young people and other vulnerable groups like older people.

They can only do this, if there are fewer, larger Community Councils. Some of the smaller Community Councils should look at joining together to form larger Community Councils that look after wider areas. In order to achieve this, we want to give Local Authorities the power to review the Community Councils in their area and with a view to reducing the overall number, and for them to complete this work by 2022.

4.5 Governance and standards

As well as changes to Community Council areas, the public needs to know there are standards for how Community Councils manage their business and how public money is spent and accounted for. We want to have a set of tests that Community Councils have to pass to be seen as capable and competent.

Councils that pass these tests will have extra rights and responsibilities. They will have wider powers to do things for the benefit of their community. Those that don’t pass the tests should look to do so by joining with another smaller Community Council to form fewer, larger Community Councils.

4.6 Community Councillors serving on more than one Council

Almost half the Councillors on the main Councils are also Community Councillors. This could cause conflicts of interest when main Councils are conducting reviews of Community Councils. Also, some people serve on more than one Community Council as well as being a Councillor of the main Council.

We want your views about whether we should prevent the same person serving on a main Council and a Community Council, and on more than one Community Council.

We want:

Councillors to be actively involved in their communities and Area Boards;

 Councillors to have an open door, listening to people’s needs;

Councils to work together with other services, voluntary organisations and communities; and

Councils to look at the Community Councils in their area and consider changes.

 

Headline facts

  • There are 8,069 Community Councillors. 68% are men; 80% are aged over 50, 60% over 60. 99.5% are white. 
     
  • 72% of Community Councils serve populations of less than 2,500, but they range from 179 (Ganllwyd) to 45,145 (Barry).
     
  • There is just one Community Council in Merthyr Tydfil, 77 in Pembrokeshire, and 111 in Powys.
     
  • 735 Community Councils cover approximately 96% of Wales’ land surface, including 70% of its population. There are few Community Councils in Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Swansea.
     
  • Community Councils spend over £40 million a year, of which £30 million is raised through a precept on the Local Authority Council Tax. On average, Community Council precepts rose by 88% between 2002-03 and 2012-13. The highest precept is £959,930. 
     
  • At the last election, only one in five Community Councillors was elected through public poll. 67% of seats were uncontested and there were no candidates in a further 12% of seats. 
     
  • On average, 45% of County Councillors are also Community Councillors. This ranges from none in Merthyr Tydfil to 87% in Wrexham and 99% in Flintshire.