Local government in Wales is primarily undertaken by the twenty-two principal councils. The councils are unitary authorities, meaning they are responsible for providing local government services within their principal area, including education, social work, environmental protection, and most highway maintenance. The principal areas are divided into communities, most of which have an elected community council. The services provided by community councils vary, but they will typically maintain public spaces and facilities. Local councils in Wales are elected; the most recent local elections in Wales took place in 2022, and the next are due to take place in 2027.

Governance

Local government is generally supervised by the (devolved) Welsh Ministers, who allocate funding of the majority of local government yearly revenue and capital settlements. The Government of Wales Act 2006 gave the Welsh Ministers the responsibility of setting up a scheme on how they are to propose and exercise their functions for the promotion and sustainability of Welsh local government.[1]

Principal councils

Main articles: List of leaders of Welsh councils, Elections in Wales, and List of electoral wards in Wales

Like councils throughout the UK, Welsh councils comprise of elected councillors and local government elections normally take place every four years. The Wales Act 2017 prevents local government elections from taking place in the same year as elections to the Senedd, meaning the May 2021 local elections to were postponed to May 2022.[2] There are currently 22 principal areas (styled as a county or a county borough) in Wales, with the current configuration established in the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994, enacted on 1 April 1996, while the framework was established earlier in the Local Government Act 1972. Like community councils, they are composed of councillors.[1]

Councils are required by law to hold annual general meetings, including after their election. In this meeting the council's chair or presiding member would be elected. Some councils also elect an individual to perform civic and ceremonial duties, usually known as a mayor and deputy mayor, with some styled as lord mayor.[3]

Council decisions may be taken by the entire council, some legally defined committees (e.g. scrutiny, audit, licensing, planning and governance committees), or by the council's executive, largely made up of a majority of councillors. All principal councils in Wales have an executive leader and cabinet, although directly-elected mayor model can be adopted by a council if there is public support through a referendum. Some decisions are required by law to be voted on by the entire council, such as the council budget and the amount of council tax. Most committees must be "politically balanced", proportionally representative of the council's political make up. Councils in Wales cannot operate a "committee" system as done in England.[3]

All principal councils have to prepare and agree on a council constitution by law. It would also have to be kept up to date, published electronically, and revised when amended.[3]

Responsibilities

The principal councils of Wales, have responsibility and deliver over 700 local government services. These include:[4][1]

List of principal councils

The 22 principal councils of Wales are:[5]

Community councils

Main article: Community (Wales)

See also: List of communities in Wales

At the lowest level of administrative subdivision in Wales are the communities, into which each principal area is subdivided. They may have elected community councils which perform a number of roles, such as providing local facilities, and representing their communities to larger local government bodies. Community councils are the equivalent of English parish councils. A community council may call itself a "town council" if it so wishes. The councils of three communities with city status – Bangor, St Asaph, and St Davids – are known as "city councils". Communities which are too small to have a council may have a community meeting instead: an example of direct democracy. The communities in the urban areas of the cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport do not have community councils.[6][7][8][9]

Every part of Wales is covered by a community. There are 878 communities in Wales,[10] however only 734 communities have a community council (also styled as a "town council" for some communities). The current configuration of communities was established in the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994, while the framework was established earlier in the Local Government Act 1972. Like principal councils, they are made up of councillors.[1]

Before 1974, Wales had civil parishes, like in England, until they were replaced with communities. The communities initially followed the boundaries of the civil parishes they replaced.[10]

Elections

Council elections in Wales are held every five years. Councils are not allowed to have more regular elections where a third of their members are elected instead. By elections can occur for councils if a seat is made vacant, such as following resignation, however by-elections cannot be held within 6 months of a council-wide election.[11]

Each council, both principal and community, are divided into electoral wards, which are decided by the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales. Some wards may be representated by more than one member, and therefore are called "multi-member" wards.[11]

Councils can choose between running their elections with the first-past-the-post voting (FPTP) system or the single transferable vote (STV) system. First-past-the-post has been used as the sole voting system to elect councils in Wales since their establishment in the late 19th century.[11]

Anyone over 16 and a legal resident of Wales can vote in local government elections, when registered to vote.[11]

Electoral wards

The principal council areas' boundaries are made from a collection of electoral wards. Each unitary authority has roughly 40 electoral wards within them on average. There are 762 electoral wards in Wales.[10]

As of 2021, the average resident population in an electoral ward in Wales was around 4 000. More populated wards are usually in larger urban areas. If boundary changes are made to electoral wards they are usually enacted on the first Thursday in May each year, in line with local government elections.[10]

Other local government

Fire and rescue authorities

In Wales, there are three fire and rescue authorities, established in 1996: Mid and West Wales Fire Authority, North Wales Fire Authority and South Wales Fire Authority. These are considered to be "local government" by the Welsh Government.[1]

The fire authorities' powers and duties were set out in the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 (part 2), with their core responsibilities being to:[1]

Map of the fire authority areas of Wales
  1. North Wales Fire Authority
  2. Mid and West Wales Fire Authority
  3. South Wales Fire Authority

National park authorities

Main articles: National park authority and National parks of Wales

There are three national park authorities across Wales, covering the country's three national parks. They are Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority (Brecon Beacons), Eryri National Park Authority (Snowdonia) and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority. These are considered to be "local government" by the Welsh Government.[1]

The national park authorities' responsibilities are:

Map of the national park authority areas of Wales
  1. Eryri National Park Authority (Snowdonia)
  2. Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority (Brecon Beacons)
  3. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority

Regional governance

There are various forms of strategic partnerships covering regions of Wales, which bring together members of various public services. These include members of the principal councils, national park authorities, fire authorities, health boards, and town and community councils. As well as Corporate Joint Committees.

Corporate Joint Committees

Main articles: Corporate Joint Committee and Regional economy in Wales

Map of the four CJCs in Wales:

The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 allowed for the formation of corporate joint committees (CJCs) made up of two or more principal areas.[12] CJCs have powers relating to economic well-being, strategic planning and the development of regional transport policies.[13] There are four CJCs, covering Mid Wales, North Wales, South East Wales, and South West Wales. These are considered to be "local government" by the Welsh Government.[1]

The joint committee's areas are conterminous with the partnership economic areas established by the same councils as part of city deals and growth deals, which they were later given the responsibility to oversee. City deals have been agreed for the Cardiff Capital Region and Swansea Bay City Region, which cover south-east and south-west Wales respectively, and growth deals have been agreed for Mid Wales (Growing Mid Wales) and North Wales (Ambition North Wales).[1]

In Wales, there are various strategic partnerships comprising members of multiple public services, such as local authorities, health board, fire and rescue authorities, national park authorities, and town and community councils.[1]

Other regional bodies

Other regional partnerships include regional economic boards (for city/growth deals or Ambition boards), Regional Partnership Boards, Adult’s and Children’s Safeguarding Partnerships, Community Safety Partnerships, Public Service Boards, Regional Housing Support Collaborative Groups and Area Planning Boards (relating to substance misuse).[1]

Public Service Boards

Public services board (PSB) is a statutory board established in each principal area, as part of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. However, some PSB have merged to span multiple principal areas. Their main purpose is to improve the collaboration across the public services in a principal area.[1]

There are four members of each board that are required by law, comprising members from the local authority, local health board, Natural Resources Wales and the fire and rescue authority. The board can statutory invite other public representatives such as the Police and crime commissioner, a force's chief constable, probation services or a voluntary sector representative.[1]

There are currently fifteen public service boards, of varying overlapping degrees of integration, in Wales, they are:[1]

Regional Partnership Boards

Regional Partnership Boards (RPBs) were established by the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. They are made up of members of health boards, local authorities and the third sector. This can include a member of the local health board, a carer, a member of the public, a registered social landlord, a third-sector worker for a local authority or health board, and members of the local authority, such as one elected member, the Director of Social Services, a housing representative and an education representative. Their responsibilities are to produce regional population assessments and a regional area plan, provide a regional annual report and demonstrate how citizens have engaged and co-produced in the plans.[14]

There are seven RPBs:

Trunk road agents

Main article: Trunk road agent

Trunk road agents are partnerships between two or more local authorities for the purposes of managing, maintaining, and improving the network of trunk roads (including any motorways) in their respective areas. Each trunk road agent can employ Welsh Government traffic officers. There are two agents, covering North and Mid Wales and South Wales.

Collaborative bodies

Partnership Council for Wales

The Partnership Council for Wales (PCfW), (Welsh: Cyngor Partneriaeth Cymru), was established under the Government of Wales Act 2006 (section 72) and encourages co-operation between the Welsh Government and local governments. The council's membership includes Welsh Government cabinet members, such as the first minister, and local government leaders, such as the leaders of principal, community, and town councils, and other public service representatives. Their meetings have representatives from organisations such as Wales TUC, Wales Council for Voluntary Action and other partners, as observers, like the Auditor General for Wales. The PCfW is responsible to encourage collaboration and dialogue on local government matters, and provide collective political accountability than can improve the outcomes for citizens.[1]

Other

History

Main article: History of local government in Wales

Modern local government in Wales emerged during the late 19th century, when administrative counties and county boroughs were established in 1889. Urban and rural districts were formed in 1894. These were replaced in 1974 by eight two-tier counties and thirty-seven districts, which were in turn replaced by the present principal areas in 1996.

Reform proposals

Williams Commission

In April 2013, it was announced that a major review was to be undertaken into local government organisation in Wales, with a Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery being established, to be chaired by Sir Paul Williams. First Minister Carwyn Jones said: "Since public sector budgets are likely to continue to tighten, and demand pressures grow, there is a clear need to examine how services can be sustained and standards of performance raised, so that people in Wales can continue to receive and influence the public services they need and value."[15]

The Commission reported on 20 January 2014. It recommended that the number of councils be reduced, through mergers rather than through boundary changes, from 22 to 10, 11 or 12; and suggested that the cost of merging the councils would be met through savings made within about two years.[16]

Carwyn Jones, first minister of Wales, stated that the report "addresses many [of the] issues [...] [as] the need for public services is outstripping the resources available to provide them", and that he's "always been clear that the status quo is not an option" and that change is essential and has to be done "so that our public services can become more efficient, effective, accessible and responsive".[16]

Janet Finch-Saunders AM, shadow minister for local government, said "What matters to the vast majority of hardworking families is not the intricate structures of local government, but knowing that services will be delivered in an efficient and cost effective way [...] We believe that public services are best delivered locally so taxpayers can hold local representatives to account".[16]

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, for Plaid Cymru, commented that evidence provided to the Williams Commission "show[ed] that if the people of Wales are going to get the services they need and deserve then there has to be a radical improvement in [delivery of] public services".[16]

Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill

In response to recommendations made by the Williams Commission, the Welsh Government published a draft local government bill in November 2015.[17] The draft bill contained two proposals, one for eight local authorities and one for nine local authorities. The difference between the two proposals is related to North Wales (two or three local authorities). The bill did not propose names for the local authorities, only listing them by number as a combination of existing principal areas. Powys was not affected by either proposal. The changes were planned to take effect in April 2020.[18]

Eight local authorities model
Proposed 8 local authorities model
Proposed local authority Proposed area
Area 1 Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy
Area 2 Denbighshire, Flintshire, Wrexham
Area 3 Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire
Area 4 Swansea, Neath Port Talbot
Area 5 Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Merthyr Tydfil
Area 6 Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan
Area 7 Monmouthshire, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Torfaen and Newport
Powys Powys
Nine local authorities model
Proposed 9 local authorities model
Proposed local authority Proposed area
Area 1 Anglesey, Gwynedd
Area 2 Conwy, Denbighshire
Area 3 Flintshire, Wrexham
Area 4 Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire
Area 5 Swansea, Neath Port Talbot
Area 6 Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Merthyr Tydfil
Area 7 Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan
Area 8 Monmouthshire, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Torfaen and Newport
Powys Powys
2016 redrafting and abandonment

Following the 2016 assembly elections, Carwyn Jones, first minister of Wales, announced that the proposals for local government reform would be taken "back to the drawing board" and that a new consensus on how to reform local government in Wales would be sought.[19] The merger plans were formally dropped in January 2017, when the Welsh Government instead began a consultation on wider reform of local governance arrangements. The number of councils are to remain as they currently are, unless two or more local authorities wish to pursue a voluntary merger.[20]

2017 white paper

A white paper titled "Reforming Local Government: Resilient and Renewed" was published in January 2017. It proposed the formation of regional bodies to encourage better collaboration between existing local authorities and a possible change in the electoral system used in local elections from "first past the post" to the "Single transferable vote" system.[20]

2018 green paper

A new green paper, "Strengthening Local Government: Delivering for People", was published in 2018.[21] The paper makes the case for a reduction of the number of local authorities from 22 to 10 and suggested three possible approaches, a system of voluntary mergers, a phased approach with authorities merging in either 2022 or 2026 or a comprehensive system of mergers to occur in 2022.[22]

Proposed 10 authority model
Proposed local authority Proposed area
Area 1 Anglesey, Gwynedd
Area 2 Conwy, Denbighshire
Area 3 Flintshire, Wrexham
Area 4 Powys
Area 5 Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire
Area 6 Swansea, Neath Port Talbot
Area 7 Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Merthyr Tydfil
Area 8 Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan
Area 9 Caerphilly, Newport
Area 10 Blaenau Gwent, Monmouthshire, Torfaen

Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021

A bill was introduced by the Welsh Government in November 2019 to reform local government in Wales. The bill contains provisions to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16 for local elections in Wales and will extend the franchise to include eligible foreign nationals. It extends the term of local councillors from four years to five years. The bill will allow local councils to decide to continue to hold elections under first past the post system or to switch to the single transferable vote system. The bill does not include provisions to restructure local councils but does contain mechanisms that can allow for two or more authorities to merge on a voluntary basis. It also creates a framework for joint regional coordination between local authorities through the formation of "Corporate Joint Committees".[23] The bill received Royal Assent in January 2021 and four Corporate Joint Committees covering all of Wales, were established the following month by statutory instruments.[24][25]

Mayors

There are some mayors in Wales, however they largely do not hold a governing role.

Directly-elected mayors

Principal councils in Wales can consider introducing a directly-elected mayor, like those in England. However, no Welsh council has introduced the role, with Ceredigion voters rejecting the idea in a 2004 referendum.[26] For a council to adopt the model, either the public in the local authority's area must start a petition, which then must pass a threshold to trigger a local referendum, or the council announces it wishes to adopt such a system, but must call a referendum to approve such system. If such a referendum passes in favour of a directly-elected mayor, then a subsequent election is held to elect such mayor, who would then create a cabinet in the council. A directly-elected mayor is an additional member to the existing number of councillors usually elected in local elections.[3]

See also

References

Citations

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r This article contains OGL licensed text This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence: "Local democracy in Wales: introduction to local government | GOV.WALES". www.gov.wales. Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  2. ^ Ruth Mosalski (24 September 2019). "The date of the next council elections in Wales has moved". Wales Online. Retrieved 17 October 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "Local democracy in Wales: introduction to governance in local government [HTML] | GOV.WALES". www.gov.wales. Retrieved 2023-12-05.
  4. ^ "Local government in Wales - WLGA". www.wlga.wales. Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  5. ^ "Local government bodies". law.gov.wales. Welsh Government. 15 March 2021.
  6. ^ "Community councils". Cardiff Council. Archived from the original on 6 September 2018. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  7. ^ "Community/Town Council contact details". City and County of Swansea. 30 September 2003. Archived from the original on 8 April 2017. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  8. ^ "Community council contact details". Newport City Council. Archived from the original on 8 April 2017. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  9. ^ "Town and Community Councils - WLGA". www.wlga.wales. Retrieved 2023-11-28.
  10. ^ a b c d "Wales - Office for National Statistics". www.ons.gov.uk. Retrieved 2023-12-05.
  11. ^ a b c d This article contains OGL licensed text This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence: "Local democracy in Wales: introduction to governance in local government [HTML] | GOV.WALES". www.gov.wales. Retrieved 2023-12-05.
  12. ^ "Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021".
  13. ^ "The South West Wales Corporate Joint Committee Regulations 2021" (PDF).
  14. ^ "Regional Partnership Boards (RPBs) | GOV.WALES". www.gov.wales. 2022-09-14. Retrieved 2023-12-05.
  15. ^ Local councils in Wales could be cut after review Archived 2013-04-19 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 19 April 2013.
  16. ^ a b c d Williams Commission report calls for fewer councils Archived 2014-01-22 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 20 January 2014.
  17. ^ "Consultations - beta.gov.wales". beta.gov.wales. Archived from the original on 30 May 2016. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  18. ^ "Local Government (Wales) Bill = Explanatory Memorandum incorporating the Regulatory Impact Assessment and Explanatory Notes" (PDF). Senedd. September 2015.
  19. ^ "'Deeply unpopular' council merger plans scrapped". Monmouthshire Beacon.
  20. ^ a b "Welsh Government - Local Government Reform White Paper unveiled by Mark Drakeford". gov.wales. 31 January 2017. Archived from the original on 17 October 2017. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Strengthening Local Government: Delivering for people". GOV.WALES. 12 June 2018.
  22. ^ "Number: WG34071 - Welsh Government Green Paper Consultation Document - Strengthening Local Government: Delivering for People" (PDF). Government of Wales. 20 March 2018.
  23. ^ "Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill". senedd.assembly.wales. November 18, 2019.
  24. ^ "Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021". Senedd. 18 November 2019. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  25. ^ "Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021".
  26. ^ Sandford, Mark (26 July 2023). "Directly-elected mayors" (PDF). researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk. House of Commons Library.

Sources