Alun Davies, Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services
The Working Group on Local Government (the Working Group) chaired by Derek Vaughan MEP was established to enable Welsh Government and local government to work together to agree a reform agenda which will enable local government to deliver sustainable services into the future. The Group provides a space for open discussion on how to tackle the key issues around improving the sustainability of local government services and structures.
The group’s ways of working are based on a mutual respect between Welsh Government and local government, and also with the other partners who bring their wider perspectives to the debate. However, there is also a useful and important degree of challenge from all parties to make sure we get the best outcomes for our citizens. We recognise that the current structures and frameworks for service delivery are not sustainable. It is our responsibility to create structures that will be sustainable and which ensure local accountability and democratic decision-making for the future.
The Group has considered a number of key issues, such as the financial framework and sustainability of services; proposed shared services and working collaboratively; the Local Government and Elections Bill; and additional powers and flexibilities for local government. The Group is reflecting on the evidence gathered during previous reviews into local government and the consultation feedback from recent Green and White Papers. In particular, the Group is taking full account of the views captured from public consultation exercises over recent years as all members agree that the views of citizens need to help shape future public services.
I am passionate about the importance of citizens being active participants in decision-making on issues which affect them, and being proactive in the democracy of our country. At future meetings we are due to consider a number of important issues related to active citizenship, electoral reform and diversity in democracy.
We will also continue to explore opportunities for joint working and structures, including making the most of regional working and shared services opportunities, to ensure collaborative working is both effective and helps save our joint limited resources.
There has been real value in adding other partners’ perspectives to the debate, to provide external views in addition to the views of local government colleagues and the Welsh Government. I am grateful to our colleagues representing the CBI, the voluntary sector and the trade unions in Wales for their time and energy in helping us make the most of this opportunity to air the issues and identify the most effective ways to move forward, together.
I am grateful to Derek Vaughan, MEP, for agreeing to Chair the meetings and to help steer the debate. Derek is someone we can all trust and who has the skills to help us to focus on the important issues for local government in Wales, and to identify clear accountability for achieving defined outcomes to move the agenda forward.
My Cabinet colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford AM, attended the latest meeting of the Working Group as part of Welsh Government-wide conversations with local government. The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) presented proposals on a suggested future framework for improved partnership arrangements related to financial discussion, and the detail of those proposals is now being further explored between officials. At the same time it is essential that any proposals for reform are rooted in the reality of potentially reduced funding for services in the medium-term.
It is important to put the Working Group on Local Government into the wider context of partnership working, as there are other forums such as the statutory Local Government Partnership Council for Wales (the Partnership Council). The Partnership Council has recently discussed digital transformation and has committed to a number of joint projects, which will be crucial in ensuring the benefits of digital capability are captured effectively across Wales, rather than within individual authorities alone. There are a number of interesting ideas being explored with the opportunity to give significant benefits to authorities across Wales.
This is an exciting time to be working together on such issues of importance to Wales, and I am proud to be involved in so much collaboration between the Welsh Government and local government to help ensure that the money we have has the greatest impact possible for the benefit of our citizens.