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Written - Response To The Report Of The Local Government and Public Services Committee – “Electoral Arrangements In Wales”
Purpose: To present the Welsh Assembly Government’s response to the Local Government and Public Services Committee’s scrutiny report on Electoral Arrangements in Wales.
The Assembly Government welcomes this report as a contribution to the ongoing discussion on the modernisation of the electoral process, aimed at maximising participation in the democratic process.
Responses, in italics, to the Report’s recommendations are set out below.
Summary of recommendations
1. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group co-ordinates all Wales voter registration and explores the scope for cost rationalisation and staff capacity.
Response: Voter registration is a function of local government. Promotion of registration is a function both of local government and the Electoral Commission. The Elections Planning Group (EPG) will act as a facilitator to promote best practice throughout Wales and also examine the implications for resources and efficiencies.
2. We recommend that the Welsh Assembly Government and the Welsh Local Government Association explore how joined up delivery of public services, in the light of the Beecham Report and the Local Government Regionalisation agenda, can contribute to tackling cost and capacity issues for Electoral Registration Officers.
Response – Support.
3. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group considers the long term implications for capacity to deliver individual registration as highlighted by evidence from the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA).
Response – The case for individual registration is not universally accepted. This recommendation should be noted but not acted upon unless there appears to be a likelihood of individual registration being introduced by the UK Government.
4. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group works with the AEA and Electoral Commission to co-ordinate promotional work on a national and/or regional basis for voter registration.
Response – Support.
5. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group investigates the experiences of initiatives such as the Right to Vote project and assesses the feasibility of rolling out a programme to targeted groups across Wales.
Response – Support.
6. We recommend that the Assembly makes full use of the powers provided for in Schedule 11 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 to promote registration for the Assembly elections in 2007 – in particular the fact that it is possible to register up to 11 days before polling day.
Response – The powers in Schedule 2 of the Government of Wales Act are functions for the National Assembly and, following the elections, the Assembly Commission.
7. We recommend that the Assembly Commission to be set up after the Assembly election in 2007 makes full use of its powers under paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 2 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 to promote registration for Assembly elections in the future.
Response – as per recommendation 6
8. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group takes steps to monitor public attitudes to the security of the postal voting system in Wales.
Response – The Electoral Commission has a duty to keep electoral practices under review. This recommendation more properly rests with the Commission, who could be asked to report to the EPG on the matter.
9. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group takes a lead in setting standards for postal voting packs that are simple and straightforward to use and use language that is accessible to the majority of people.
Response – Support.
10. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group considers guidelines for advising people about changing their method of voting to ensure that they are simple and straightforward and there is adequate publicity.
Response – Support.
11. We recommend that the Welsh Assembly Government and the Welsh Local Government Association encourage Welsh local authorities to apply to the UK Government to pilot methods of electronic voting.
Response – Support (as one of a number of potential pilots)
12. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group takes steps to ensure that guidelines on access to polling stations are consistent and obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 are made explicit in all guidance.
Response – The Elections Planning Group will work with the Electoral Commission to ensure that guidance to returning officers contain provisions which are consistent with Section 16 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, which places a duty on local authorities to regularly review polling places. This includes the need to have regard to accessibility to the disabled.
The Elections Planning Group will also have cognisance to reports from SCOPE and others on access issues.
13. We recommend that any guidance for polling station staff should take account of the needs of voters with learning disabilities.
Response – This is a matter for returning officers and the Electoral Commission.
14. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group commissions an assessment of training needs for polling station staff across Wales on issues regarding access and identifies appropriate organisations and mechanisms for delivering training.
Response – The EPG will request a report on this matter from the Electoral Commission.
15. We recommend that targets are set for local authorities for the percentage of polling stations that are fully accessible to all abilities.
Response – Support in principle. The EPG will consider this recommendation and its practicality.
16. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group considers what mechanism could be created to ensure that any problems identified in polling station manager’s reports are acted on and addressed as a matter of priority.
Response – Support in principle. Such reports are not necessarily routinely produced.
17. We recommend that the Welsh Assembly Government and the Welsh Local Government Association encourage Welsh local authorities to apply to the UK Government in order to participate in any pilot schemes involving the use of alternative venues for voting.
Response – Support
18. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group explores the scope for cost rationalisation and joined-up delivery of electoral services in Wales that will allow electoral administrators and returning officers to carry out their duties and responsibilities, including those introduced by the Electoral Administration Act 2006, effectively.
Response – Support (links to recommendation 2).
19. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group considers regional and nation-wide approaches to the promotion of voting by young people.
Response – Support.
20. We recommend that the Elections Planning Group considers rolling out targeted initiatives to encourage socially and economically excluded groups of young people to vote.
Response – Support in principle. The EPG should examine the issue but may not be the appropriate body to take initiatives in this area.
21. We recommend that the ongoing review of the curriculum, including the public consultation exercise, should pay particular attention to the
need to develop political understanding amongst young people and to teach them about the roles, policies and positioning of political parties as well as political processes.
Response – Support in principle. The public consultation is already underway (January 8th – 30th March 2007) and the questions were finalised in September 2006. There is an opportunity to consult with practitioners at a consultation conference on the new Personal and Social Education (PSE) Framework in March 2007
22. We recommend that guidance to schools on the teaching of ‘political literacy’ should specifically include teaching about political parties and young people’s role in the democratic process as well as basic political concepts.
Response – Support in principle. A website is being developed currently which will provide supplementary guidance on the delivery of the new PSE framework. This will provide a mechanism to provide a definition of political literacy, examples of effective practice and signposting to initiatives in Wales that support this recommendation.
23. We recommend that the Welsh Assembly Government reviews guidance to senior school management and governors to ensure that the importance of promoting political literacy in the life of the school in a balanced and non-partisan manner is recognised and to encourage inviting voluntary, private and public service organisations, including political parties, into schools to facilitate debate amongst pupils.
Response – Support in principle The Welsh Assembly Government has previously issued guidance to all schools in Wales on the role of the Assembly and how they might involve local Assembly Members in their school’s activities
24. We recommend that the Welsh Assembly Government takes a co-ordinated approach to the guidance it gives schools on the operation of school councils and on citizenship activities, to ensure that these are properly contributing to pupils’ political understanding and appropriate links are being made between school council activities and other citizenship initiatives, such as inviting politicians into schools.
Response – Support in principle. School Council guidance has already been issued to schools and LEAs. The Assembly Government has not issued separate guidance on ‘citizenship activities’ as active citizenship is an integral component of PSE.
However, the original PSE Supplementary guidance materials for schools contained several ‘citizenship’ good practice case studies, and examples on this aspect will also be contained on the new website.
The Assembly Government’s Schools Councils website www.schoolcouncilswales.org.uk has a section for professionals and governors which can also be used to host such information.
25. We recommend that the Welsh Assembly Government reviews its internal structures to ensure that a strategic co-ordinated approach is taken to the delivery of citizenship education, from curriculum development to teacher training and classroom activities.
Response – Support. The coordination of citizenship initiatives are currently being considered as part of the organisational review of the Department for Education Lifelong Learning and Skills.
26. We recommend that guidance and training should focus on ensuring that all pupils, regardless of their background, are encouraged equally to participate in school councils and other citizenship initiatives and that Estyn should monitor representation and participation from an equality perspective.
Response – Support. We will ask Estyn to consider monitoring representation and participation from an equality perspective.
27. We recommend that measures are put in place to ensure that all secondary schools deliver Personal and Social Education (PSE) using specially trained and resourced teachers.
Response –Support in principle. PSE is a statutory requirement and forms ‘part of the basic curriculum for all registered pupils at maintained schools who are of compulsory school age’.
It is the responsibility of schools to plan and deliver a broad,
balanced programme of PSE to meet the specific needs of learners aged 5 -16. A new PSE framework is currently being consulted upon.
28. We recommend that the Welsh Assembly Government takes the lead in facilitating training of teachers in PSE, providing resource packs for such training and supporting teachers in the delivery of PSE.
Response – Support. The Welsh Assembly Government develops a number of bilingual classroom resources annually including those for PSE and active citizenship. Schools and local authorities need to consider the training needs of their staff to deliver all parts of the curriculum, including PSE. Funding is available from within the Better Schools Fund to support them in preparing for the revised curriculum
29. We recommend that the Welsh Assembly Government ensures that existing examples of good practice in citizenship and political education are adequately disseminated to all schools and youth groups in Wales.
Response – Support in principle. The PSE Supplementary Guidance website will include effective practice case studies targeted at the formal education sector; schools and FE Colleges. The planned launch is Spring 2008.
The Assembly Government will also consider with young people’s
co-ordinators how this information might be distributed to youth groups.
The information could be distributed through the Youth Work Policy Bulletin which is distributed to 850 key workers and organisations in contact with young people predominantly in the community. The information could also be distributed through existing networks managed by the Principal Youth Officers group, Council in Wales for Voluntary Youth Organisations and Young People’s Partnerships
30. We recommend that the Assembly Commission and local authorities develop initiatives that provide young people from different backgrounds with opportunities to shadow elected politicians from the Assembly and Local Government, and to participate in debates with politicians. Such initiatives should take account of existing good practice in Wales and elsewhere.
Response – Support.
31. We recommend that it should be a requirement to provide bilingual support and advice to people through both the registration and voting process in all electoral areas of Wales. Where it is not possible to have bilingual staff present, people should be able to access personal advice in the language of their choice, for example via a freephone number.
Response – Support in principle. This is a matter for electoral registration officers and returning officers.
32. We recommend that targeted support and advice in languages other than Welsh and English, through both the registration and voting process, should be provided in electoral areas in Wales according to need.
Response – Support. Section 36 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 requires that documents for distribution or display to voters should be available in languages other than English and Welsh as appropriate.
33. We recommend that continued efforts are made to improve the accessibility of all electoral material in Wales and to take full account of the needs of people with learning disabilities, limited literacy and those whose first language is not English or Welsh.
Response – Support. Also covered by section 36 (see 32 above).
Actions for the Elections Planning Group will be considered at their June meeting and an action plan drawn up. Actions for the Assembly Government to pursue with the Welsh Local Government Association will, subject to the agreement of the new Minister, be placed on the agenda of a bilateral meeting with the WLGA leadership early in the life of the next administration.
The Assembly Government responses do not have significant financial implications for the Assembly or local government. A number of the responses to the recommendations could lead to savings for local authorities. The recommendations in this report will need to be considered further by the Elections Planning Group and may result in future requests for funding which will be considered separately.