A major new package of reforms to local government in Wales, which includes giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote at local elections has been unveiled by the Welsh Government.
The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill, which is due to be introduced before the National Assembly for Wales later today by the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James, provides for the establishment of a new and reformed legislative framework for local government elections, democracy, performance and governance.
The bill will invigorate local democracy in Wales, making it easier for people to see, influence and get involved with the work of those who represent them, and widening the range of people who can vote and stand for office.
Proposals to change the law to make it possible for 16 and 17 year olds to vote at local council elections are part of the biggest change in the Welsh electoral system for 50 years – when the voting age was lowered to 18 during the 1970s.
The bill will also empower Wales’ 22 principal councils, giving them the tools and powers they have asked for to be ambitious and creative, and to work flexibly to deliver better services for people in Wales.
The bill will also support councils to work together across geographical and administrative boundaries, keeping accountability with local people.
Introducing the bill, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said:
We believe in strong local government. We want it to thrive, we want the people of Wales to feel well-represented and supported by modern public services, and we want the relationship between local government and the Welsh Government to be mature and focused on our shared agenda – delivering better public services for everyone, helping people who need support, when and where they need it most.
This bill is introduced at a time when austerity continues, and relationships and technology are changing the way public services interact with each other, and with the communities they serve.
So 20 years on from devolution, this is a significant Local Government Bill which reflects the journey of devolution and will deliver a major package of reforms, including local government electoral reform.
It aims to provide local government with new ways to support and serve their communities in these challenging times, while reinvigorating local democracy here in Wales.
The bill also introduces powers to:
- allow each council to decide for itself which voting system to use – First Past the Post (FPTP) or Single Transferable Vote (STV); STV is considered to be a system of ‘proportional representation’
- make it easier for people to be included on the electoral register, by giving Electoral Registration Officers the power to automatically add people to the register, without the need for them to apply
- enable the piloting of reforms to local government elections after 2022, such as holding elections on different days and having polling stations in different places
- local government will move to fixed five-year terms between elections
- give all foreign citizens lawfully living in Wales the opportunity to vote in and stand in local elections, irrespective of their nationality
- enabling job sharing in the Council Executive including the post of Leader, and updating provisions to enable councillors to remotely attend council meetings and have periods of family absence
- allow the voluntary merger of principal councils to make sure that, where this route is taken, the process is completed in an orderly fashion and reaps the greatest benefit possible for service users.
The bill has been developed over 5 years – in support of Ministers’ vision for local government, in collaboration with local government and in response to 5 public consultation exercises, a draft bill and on-going partnership working with local government.