The Welsh Parliament has voted to give 16 and 17 year-olds and foreign citizens legally resident in Wales the right to vote in council elections.
Exactly a year since it was introduced, the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill passed the Senedd.
The move comes after 16 to 17 year olds and qualifying foreign citizens were given the right to register and vote in the Senedd elections next May.
Greater diversity amongst elected members in principal councils will also be supported by providing for job-sharing by officeholders such as council leaders, more flexible remote working and updating family absence provisions.
Speaking after the Bill was passed, Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said the bill would enable a local democracy “which reflects our diversity as a nation”.
It would also “provide local government with new ways to support and serve their communities and reinvigorate local democracy in Wales,” she said.
What does the new law do?
- Strengthen existing arrangements to enable councillors to remotely attend council meetings and have periods of family absence. The change will make it easier to update arrangements for periods of family absence as policy develops in this area;
- Enable job sharing in the council Executive/Cabinet, including the post of Leader. It will also allow the creation of Assistant Executive/Cabinet members;
- Amend the eligibility criteria for candidates for local government elections to allow a citizen from any country (who is legally resident in Wales) to stand, subject to all disqualification criteria;
- Enable council employees to stand for election (those who are not in politically restricted posts/senior officers) without having to resign from their jobs first (they would be required to resign if elected);
- Place a duty on leaders of political groups to take reasonable steps to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by the members of the group.
The Bill will also ensure political decision-making should take place in the public eye. To support this, the Bill puts in place new requirements for public engagement and participation.
Councils will be required to:
- Have a public participation strategy, with the aim of making it easier for the public to understand how local government works, makes decisions, and how local people can be involved. As part of this, Councils will be required to publish guides to their constitutions in ‘ordinary language’;
- Make a petition scheme, setting out how local authorities will handle and deal with petitions, including e-petitions;
- Use technology to increase transparency and enable participation of the public in council business by broadcasting public meetings, and ensuring the digital publication of meeting documentation.
“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,” Julie James said.
“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.”