Julie James MS, Minister for Housing and Local Government
As we reach the end of the Senedd term, I would like to provide an update on Welsh Government’s work with, and support for, the community and town council sector.
Community and town councils are an integral part of local government; democratically accountable and working at the most local level to improve their communities. Never has this been more visible as during the response to the covid-19 pandemic. As the pandemic began, community councils were on the front lines in their communities, particularly for those in vulnerable groups, and were invaluable for access to pharmacy deliveries, for instance. On behalf of all those who received help, I would like to note formally my thanks to the councils and volunteers for their support.
In 2018, the Welsh Government commissioned a cross-party review of the Community and Town Council Sector, which set a clear direction of travel for the sector, recommending a number of actions for both national government and the community council sector. In response we set out a number of key areas for action, to encourage and enable the sector to develop.
Since then, we have worked closely with community councils, One Voice Wales and the Society for Local Council Clerks to develop the capacity of councils to confidently deliver for their communities. Some of the highlights include:
- Providing funding for council clerks to undertake the sector specific CilCA (Certificate in Local Council Administration) qualification
- Providing increased funding to incentivise councillor training, with a particular emphasis on financial management and governance
- Funding clusters of community councils to establish joint delivery arrangements
- Publishing a digital media guide, with a factsheet on sources of funding available to community councils to follow shortly
- Legislating, through the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 to give eligible councils the General Power of Competence from next year, require them to prepare annual reports and consider their training needs. The Act also made permanent the flexibility to hold virtual meetings.
Other work is still under way, such as the co-development of a framework for councils to self-assess their performance and identify areas for improvement, along with One Voice Wales, SLCC, and Audit Wales, and exploration of how to support digital transformation in the community and town council sector.
That said, there are a number of questions raised in the Review that required further thought, and the need to focus on the response to the pandemic has delayed giving them due consideration. For instance, there are a range of views on whether councillors should be able to sit on both community and principal councils, whether councillors should be co-opted for a maximum of one term, or how best to define the place-based roles that community councils could undertake. There are other questions that could be explored, such as whether clerks should be required to be qualified, and whether Ministers should have proportionate intervention powers. These actions require further development in the next Senedd Term, working with our partners to develop clear policy proposals, some of which may require further legislation. It is for the next Government to take these forward in line with their priorities.
I believe that the community council sector is an untapped resource in many areas of Wales. I hope that future governments and future community council leaders continue the focus on developing the sector to enable it to fulfil its potential.