Wales’ council elections: What responsibilities does a local authority have, and why should you vote?
Rhiannon James, local democracy reporter
With council elections across Wales fast approaching, we take a look at what do councils do and what people are voting for.
Councils, or local authorities as they are known, are responsible for a wide range of local services – some statutory, meaning they have to do them, others not.
According to the Welsh Local Government Association, Wales’ councils provide more than 700 local services.
- Education – for example providing schools, transport to get children to school and providing opportunities for adult learning.
- Housing – such as finding accommodation for people in need and maintaining social housing.
- Social Services – for example caring for and protecting children, older people and disabled people.
- Highways and Transport – including maintaining roads and managing traffic flow
- Waste Management – including collecting rubbish and recycling.
- Leisure and Cultural Services – for example providing libraries, leisure services and arts venues.
- Consumer Protection – such as enforcing trading standards and licensing taxis
- Environmental Health and Services – for example making sure that the food provided in pubs and restaurants is safe to eat, and controlling pollution locally.
- Planning – including managing local development and making sure buildings are safe.
- Economic Development – for example attracting new businesses and encouraging tourism.
- Emergency Planning – for things like floods or terrorist attacks.
Because of the breadth of services they provide, councils are their area’s largest employers with budgets in the hundreds of millions and the decisions they make have a huge impact on people’s day-to-day lives.
Funding of local government
Local authorities are mainly funded through council tax and a block grant from the Welsh Government. More recently, the UK Government has also been issuing grants directly to Welsh councils for local projects – much to the annoyance of Welsh Government, and causing concern that some areas were missing out for political reasons.
While business rates, or non-domestic rates, are collected by councils, the revenue raised goes to a centralised pot to be redistributed through the Welsh Government’s block grant.
The percentage of council tax is set by the council on an annual basis – in March 2022, Caerphilly County Borough Council decided on a 1.9% increase for the 2022/23 financial year.
Community councils are funded by a levy in addition to their county borough council tax. Areas that do not have a community council do not pay the additional fee.
How are people represented in a council?
The area a local authority covers is split into wards, and every ward has a minimum of one councillor to represent it.
Depending on the number of residents living in the ward some will have more representatives than others – for example in Caerphilly County Council, Pontllanfraith has three councillor positions, and Pontlottyn has one.
For each vacancy a resident gets one vote, therefore, in the upcoming election people living in Pontllanfraith will have three votes and Pontlottyn residents will have one.
This does not include the additional votes for the community council elections – which are separate – see below.
Elected councillors then form political groups on the council and the group with the largest number has control over the council. This is usually done along party lines, like Labour or Plaid Cymru, although independent councillors without a party can also form their own group.
What about community councils?
In addition to the county borough council election, in some areas residents will also vote for those standing for elections to community and town councils on May 5.
Community and town councils’ purposes are to improve the quality of life and environment for citizens in their area. For example they are often responsible for local parks and community projects, such as the Undercurrent arts competition in Aber Valley.
County borough councillors will often be a community councillor in their local areas as well, to keep in touch with local issues.
In both the county borough election and the community council elections, on some occasions the number of candidates will not exceed the number of vacancies. In such cases no poll will be held and the candidate will be declared elected.
Why vote on May 5?
Voting in local elections can provide an opportunity for residents to “have their say” in the running of their local area, because they can support the person they believe will represent them and their views best.
Residents can go to their local councillor if they have a concern about a council issue, and the ward councillor can express this on their behalf and campaign for change. An example of this is a ward councillor speaking against an application at a planning committee because their residents have concerns.
Despite the vast area of local influence a council has, the number of people who vote is typically low. The Welsh average in 2017 was 42.4%.
This year as part of an effort to boost turnout a pilot is being conducted where the council’s Ty Penallta headquarters, in Tredomen, will be open to the public on Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1 for people to vote in advance of the main election day on May 5 – which will run as normal.
The voting process for those wanting to vote early will remain the same, but will take place at the council chambers between 10am and 4pm.
For the first time this year, all legal residents of Wales who are aged 16 or over on polling day are eligible to vote in the local elections.
Previously only British, Irish, Commonwealth and European citizens aged over 18 could vote.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.
Thank you for the list, although perhaps just half advantage me personally it is good to know I’m helping others across the board. This is of course how it should be in a caring community. I am particularly proud of the A470 and how it must be admire by travellers and holiday makers from far and wide as they pass through this most beautiful country of ours…
It’s time for a new wales kick all English party’s out of wales vote Plaid Cymru 🏴 start fighting for your children and grandchildren future in wales 🏴
They are not standing in my ward in PT Graham….who shall I vote for?