A summary of the group's purpose and how it will work.

Context

The Welsh Government and local authorities agree that strong local government is essential to the effective delivery of good quality, integrated public services to communities across Wales. They recognise that the strength of the Welsh Government and local government is the democratic accountability which reflects the needs, aspirations and cultures of Wales. They also agree we need to see effective, successful organisations which are fit-for-purpose and representative of the communities they serve.

Following the consultation on the Green Paper ‘Strengthening Local Government: Delivering for People’, the Welsh Government agreed not to proceed with comprehensive mergers as outlined in the Green Paper, on the basis of local government continuing to work with the Welsh Government to deliver reform.

Both the Welsh Government and local government recognise that no structure is immutable and that 22 councils may not suit Wales’ needs into the future. However, we must ensure any change to that structure or in the development of wider regional and partnership arrangements is more effective than what it replaces – and any disruption or investment is outweighed by the benefits (financial or non-financial) over the medium and long term.

Our shared focus is on progressing reform which helps improve the resilience of local government services, and which enhances local government’s role in place-shaping and furthering the ambitions of our communities. In doing so, we recognise that local government and the Welsh Government (and the National Assembly for Wales) have distinctive roles to play in the governance of Wales. This process will seek to develop shared understanding of those distinctive roles and what they imply for each other.

Core task

The Working Group’s core task is to develop a shared agenda for reform which ensures the sustainability of local service provision through: appropriate structures and processes – whether collaboration, shared services or voluntary mergers – all within the framework of democratic accountability and empowered by additional functions, powers and flexibilities, the appropriate financial framework and other tools or support necessary for change.

Key components

Joint working and structures

  • To look across existing regional arrangements and identify where there is scope to simplify and integrate activity (of authorities and partners), scope for future development, and scope to redesign services, and to establish the principles which should underpin further regional working.
  • To identify areas where there is an appetite and a sufficient case for shared services and the steps required to make progress.
  • To produce a prospectus setting out the key issues which potential merging authorities could use to test the case for change in their context.
  • To advise on the practical action and any support required to make progress on each of the above. This will be a mix of matters for local government to lead on and matters for the Welsh Government to pick up.

Powers and flexibilities

  • To identify specific powers, including funded powers, and flexibilities that would support local government in achieving its ambitions for communities and enable communities to achieve theirs.
  • To explore the current arrangements by which policy change is formulated, consulted on and implemented to ensure local government’s voice and interests are heard and properly reflected in decisions.

Active citizenship

  • To identify ways in which communities can be empowered to meaningfully participate in local decision-making more fully.
  • To examine immediate reforms which could be implemented to secure increased public value.
  • To advise on how much greater diversity in local government representation, and among senior officers, can be achieved.
  • To consider councillors, their remuneration and role and what changes, within the same total level of remuneration, might provide for greater diversity and capacity among elected members.

Service change and the financial position

  • The Working Group will focus on developing the case for investment in local government services because of the public value they generate.
  • The Working Group will not be the primary forum for exploring the financial position of local government and the case for funding; that will be the Finance Sub Group of the Partnership Council for Wales. The Group might however consider the architecture that supports the work of the Finance Sub Group and consider how the scope of member engagement in this process can be enhanced and codifying existing mechanisms.
  • To determine what resources are required to establish a new sector-led improvement and support arrangements in local government, including digital transformation, peer and self-assessment and corporate and service support.

Mutual respect and shared responsibilities

  • To consider how mutual respect between elected representatives at a local and national level can be developed and embedded, ensuring greater consistency and better understanding of respective roles and responsibilities
  • To consider how the governance framework in Wales, including the roles and responsibilities of local government, the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales could be codified and underpinned by shared principles and commitment to democratic oversight and subsidiarity, such as a Charter for Local Self-Government

Method of working

The Working Group will work collectively to develop a shared position on reform, with a focus on the actions which will be taken by local government and Welsh Government to progress that shared agenda.

Local Government and Welsh Government will be open on areas of concern and their real priorities to enable a meaningful engagement on the issues that really matter to them – and to people, communities and businesses in Wales.

The working group will be able to draw on the considerable evidence which has been developed over the last few years on reform and on effective delivery. The Working Group’s focus, therefore, will be on determining what should be done in response to that evidence and not generating significant additional evidence themselves.

Output

The output will be a pragmatic plan for change, co-produced between the Welsh Government and local government and to be implemented together.

The process should be practical and focused on developing a shared understanding what needs to be done to effect change. The mutually desired output is a shared agenda for change, not a report and recommendations for consideration.

Timescale

The Working Group’s work will last for one year, concluding its work by summer 2019.

Any matters for inclusion in the planned Local Government and Elections Bill will need to be confirmed by end of September 2018 in order for provisions to be ready for introduction at Stage 2. Any matters emerging later would need to be picked up in subsequent legislation.

Workplan

The Working Group will agree a workplan and schedule of meetings to cover the 5 key components of the task.

Membership

The working group will have a majority of local government members and will include Welsh Government and Trade Union, business and third sector representatives:

  • Independent Chair
    • Derek Vaughan
  • 6 leaders from Welsh Local Government
    • Cllr Debbie Wilcox (WLGA Leader)
    • Cllr Andrew Morgan (WLGA Presiding Officer)
    • Cllr Hugh Evans (WLGA Independent Group Leader)
    • Cllr Emlyn Dole (WLGA Plaid Leader)
    • Cllr Peter Fox (WLGA Conservative Group Leader)
    • Cllr Rob Stewart (WLGA Deputy Leader)
  • Welsh Government Minister
    • Alun Davies (other Cabinet Secretaries may be invited to attend, depending on the topic)
  • One Union representative
    • Bethan Thomas (Unison)
  • One Business representative
    • Michael Plaut (CBI Wales)
  • One Third Sector representative
    • Gaynor Richards (NPT CVS)

Although continuity of attendance is important, members may send a substitute when necessary.

Secretariat and support

  • Joint Welsh Government and WLGA
  • The working group will be able to draw on academic input or other expert input as required
  • The working group will be able to invite people with relevant expertise to join discussion on key topics