Posted: Tue 3rd Feb 2015

Power to Local People: Radical shake up of local government in Wales revealed in white paper.

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Feb 3rd, 2015

Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews has launched his White Paper setting out the terms of a new deal for local government in Wales.

Mr Andrews sets out proposals for reform of local government with the launch of the white paper called Power to ‘Local People’ – it aims to make councils more inclusive and accountable and sets out the Welsh government’s vision for the future of local government

The proposals put forward fundamental reforms in the following fields: local democracy, the roles and remuneration of elected members and senior officers, community governance and community councils, community rights, corporate improvement, service performance, scrutiny, audit, inspection and regulation, and local government finance.

The public services minister will forge ahead with plans to reduce the number of councils in Wales from 22 to around 12, this includes the merger of Flintshire and Wrexham council’s – a draft Bill will be published in autumn 2015 in order to formalise the reduction.

Amongst the raft of proposals within the white paper there is a focus on the bits that many people in the community get a little angry at, frustrated with or simply confused by, such as chief executive pay, accountability of the leaders and the public expectation level is of serving councillors.

A review of chief executive and senior manager pay scales has been proposed in the paper, there are currently huge inconsistencies in senior management pay across councils in Wales, chief executives earn between £105,851 and £194,661, Colin Everett Flintshire county council chief executive took home £167,994 last year, excluding pension contributions that works out at around £65 an hour based on an average 40 hour week, not that there is such a thing as an an average week for a council chief exec.

The size of senior management teams in Wales varies widely, from three directors in some councils to 17 in others, directors earn between £70,000 and £150,000.

It’s a lot of public money the white paper says, and in total almost £26 million a year is paid out on senior roles.

Councillor roles will come under scrutiny, the proposal’s suggest councillor’s need greater understanding of what is expected from them,  they need to lead their communities and make sure people’s voices are heard when decisions are made, they need to communicate with the people they serve and this includes making sure there are opportunities for them to participate in what is happening.

Interestingly the paper goes on to say councillors should use social media and digital technology to make themselves more available.

The paper outlines changes to council elections moving from every four years to five, with a maximum of five terms, 25 years for councillors and two terms for council leaders. 

The plans also looks at the power for the Welsh Ministers to intervene if something goes wrong within a Council, Ministers should have the power to commission an independent review of a local authority says if:

• a whistle-blower says there are issues;

• their performance is below what it needs to be;

• they are behind other Councils in key areas;

• there are concerns raised by the Council itself or its Members;

• information from auditors or inspectors show problems; or

• the public have concerns about issues. 

The Welsh Government also believes digital technology has huge potential to change the way services are delivered and how councils are held to account, the focus needs to be on ease of use and open access.

The Welsh Government says

“We question whether most Councils fully understand the kind of cultural change required to achieve the greatest impact from technology. We have made clear our intention that Council and Executive meetings must be broadcast live online so more people can take part and see what is happening in their area. Now we want to go further. We want to give the public the right to make their views known on any agenda items of meetings of the Cabinet, the Council or its Committees, and for those views to be taken into account. We also believe the public have a right to report or have their say by using social media during all public meetings in the Council.”

Flintshire County Council ran a trial last year where two meetings were ‘webcast’ this was funded centrally by a Government grant, Deeside.com asked on numerous occasions about the outcome of the trial and when Webcasting was to go live at all meetings, we are still awaiting a response some six months on.

Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews says:

“In this White Paper, we set out the terms of a new deal for local government in Wales, one based on a smaller number of stronger councils, which will result in national government in Wales setting a small number of clear national priorities.

This is about reform not reorganisation. It is about rebuilding councils from the inside out, rebuilding trust and confidence in local government and a new relationship between Councils and the people they serve.

My role is to set the right framework to ensure local leadership can deliver for their communities. We will ensure value for money by cutting the cost of politics and management in local government, ensuring councillors reflect the diversity in their communities and ensuring the culture in local government is open to challenge and has involving and supporting its communities as its core value. This is about profound change in the way Councils work and deliver for their communities.

Our vision is for stronger, more representative Local Government delivering, and accountable for, quality local services which meet the needs of local communities.”

Full details of the consultation can be fond in the documents below.

 

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