Posted: Thu 19th Nov 2020

Bill to reduce voting age in local government elections to 16 passed in Welsh Parliament

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Nov 19th, 2020

A Bill to reduce the voting age in local government elections to 16 and 17 year-olds has been passed in the Senedd.

The Bill also extends the franchise to foreign citizens legally resident in Wales, allowing them to have a say in how their communities are run.

The move means local elections will fall into line with Senedd elections which for the first time next year will see 16 to 17 year olds and qualifying foreign citizens being able to register and vote.

Greater diversity amongst elected members in principal councils will also be supported by providing for job-sharing by office holders, more flexible remote working and updating family absence provisions.

Speaking after the Bill was passed, Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said:

“This Bill will enable a local democracy which reflects our diversity as a nation, provide local government with new ways to support and serve their communities and reinvigorate local democracy in Wales.”

The Bill enables greater accessibility and participation in local government by making it easier to register to vote and enfranchising more people to vote.

It enables more people to stand for election from a range of different backgrounds so that councils can fully reflect the communities they serve.

Councils will now be required to consult and publish a public participation strategy with the aim of making it easier for local people to understand how local government functions; how it makes decisions; how local people can follow proceedings and how they can input their views and have them taken into account.

To help facilitate greater participation, the bill seeks to promote more effective use of petitions within local government, introducing petitions schemes already in place with other public bodies including the Senedd.

The Welsh Government also says people should be able to watch council meetings at any time.

The Bill will require principal councils to live broadcast meetings of their full council that are open to the public electronically and to make the broadcast available electronically for a reasonable period after the meeting.

It will also enable more meetings to be broadcast in this way in the future.

People attending community council meetings will now have greater opportunity to make representations during meetings about any business.

For community and town councils the Bill will also allow for remote attendance at meetings allowing those with caring responsibilities and in employment to stand for election to this important level of local government.

The Minister for Housing and Local Government said:

“The ways in which we live and work in Wales are constantly changing and our public service organisations are working hard to keep pace with that change. I believe we now have a Bill which will deliver effective reform and has been designed with local government. Anything we do to achieve greater accessibility and improved public participation in local government will be hugely valuable to Welsh democracy.

“The Bill ensures that local authorities can take a lead in making the arrangements that ensure the regions of Wales can take responsibility for their shared interest in transport planning, land use planning and economic development. This is the next step in devolution in which Welsh Government supports the regions of Wales in exercising control over what matters to them.”

“Some provisions in the Bill, particularly the introduction of the general power of competence and corporate joint committees, will enable councils to build on the innovation and joint working which has been central to dealing with the pandemic.”

Welsh Conservatives voted against the Bill, with Shadow Local Government and Communities Minister Mark Isherwood MS describing it as “a missed opportunity” He said:

“This Bill, which could have driven the changes needed, has instead become a missed opportunity.”

“We voted against this Bill, and all responsible Members should therefore have also opposed it.”

The landmark piece of legislation addresses issues with the voting system by giving councils the opportunity to move to single transferable vote (STV) using an opt-in system similar to that used in New Zealand. Scotland already uses the STV system for local elections.

This is the first piece of legislation bringing STV to Wales, Jess Blair, Director from the Electoral Reform Society Cymru Cymru said:

“This legislation could revolutionise democracy in Wales, bringing in a fairer, more proportional voting system, expanding voting to 16-and 17- year olds, and changing the way local elections are run for the better.”

“This is the culmination of years of campaigning and discussions and marks a real step forward for Welsh democracy.”

“Wales is leading the way on reforming the way local democracy can work to ensure that even at the most local level, our democracy is fair and representative.”

“These changes set a blueprint for the rest of the UK and shows just what is possible when there is the will to get it done. Now it is England’s turn to follow.”

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