I, like you, believe passionately in the power of local government in our communities.
Having represented my ward on the council in Rhondda Cynon Taf since 2004, I have seen first-hand the difference that our local services can make in people’s daily lives. It is exactly that sense of wanting to change people’s lives for the better that attracts us all to stand for election as councillors in the first place, regardless of the colour of our rosettes.
It is no secret the pressures that councils have had to experience because of swingeing cuts over the past decade. As we all know, essential local services are integral to keeping people well and away from hospital waiting rooms, and it is crucial they receive the investment they need.
As the new Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, I was delighted to hear the news that local government in Wales will this year receive its best funding settlement in 12 years. Although the 4.3 per cent boost doesn’t cover the entirety of next year’s £285 million funding black hole, it is a very welcome step change from Welsh Government and shows a commitment to our public services.
I and my fellow leaders will look forward to continuing to work in partnership with ministers to ensure that we can further build on that commitment.
“It is crucial that essential local services receive the investment they need”
Despite the ever-present shadow of austerity in recent years, councils have not stood still and have reformed and transformed their services for the modern age.
We have also recently seen a wide-ranging package of proposals for council reform as part of a new Bill introduced by the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James AM, to the Senedd, many of which the WLGA has welcomed.
Some parts of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill have been developed in partnership with local government through a working group chaired by Derek Vaughan CBE, and leaders have appreciated the minister’s commitment to co-producing and partnership.
The proposal to allow 16 and 17-year- olds the right to vote at local elections has been particularly welcomed by the WLGA. Such a progressive move would be absolutely vital in order to improve engagement with residents in our communities and to make sure that our young people feel they are a valued part in local decision making.
Councils must reflect the communities they represent, which is why the WLGA is currently working to attract more women and people from under-represented communities to consider standing as candidates at the next Welsh local elections in 2022.
Representation in our council chambers has improved significantly. However, the pace of progress has remained stubbornly slow, which is why a cross-party group has been convened by the WLGA to explore ideas to improve representation, including a new website that will be launched in the coming weeks for anyone interested to learn more about how to become a councillor. I am excited to see how this area of work develops as we look ahead to the 2022 election.
There is still a pervasive myth that views councils as being inaccessible, irrelevant ivory towers.
As councillors and leaders, we have a duty to promote proactively the inclusive, collaborative and open nature of modern-day councils to ensure the rich diversity of voices in our communities are represented.