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Oral - Legislative Statement on the Proposed National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Local Government) Order 2009

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Brian Gibbons, Minister for Social Justice and Local Government

I am pleased to lay before the National Assembly the proposed legislative competence Order on local government. As highlighted earlier in the First Minister’s statement, the proposed LCO forms a key part of our legislative programme for the next session. The Assembly Government highly values the roles and status of local government in Wales. The purpose of the proposed LCO is to enable the National Assembly for Wales to legislate to strengthen the role of town and community councils. It also plans to remove barriers and disincentives to people standing for election to community and unitary councils. For the sake of brevity, references in this statement to community councils should be taken to mean both community and town councils.

 

 

The policy context of the proposed LCO flows from three separate and recent reviews into different aspects of local government in Wales: the Aberystwyth report on community councils, the expert panel’s examination of the recruitment and retention of councillors, and the independent remuneration panel’s review of councillors’ remuneration.

 

First, the proposed LCO would provide the Assembly with the competence to address concerns about the constraints facing community councils, which were set out in the Aberystwyth report, 'Research Study into the Role, Functions and Future Potential of Community and Town Councils in Wales’, undertaken by Aberystwyth University. Having considered the Aberystwyth report, the Assembly Government is committed to bringing forward proposals to develop and strengthen the role of community councils. The overall aim will be to increase the effectiveness of community councils in their functional and representational role, and to facilitate their ability to work in partnership with other bodies. The proposed LCO would furnish the Assembly with the competence to consider a range of proposals, which the Assembly Government will bring forward in a proposed local government Measure later in this session.

 

The proposed LCO is also designed to enable the Assembly to respond to the work of two review panels: the Councillors Commission’s expert panel in Wales, which has been looking at a range of issues connected to the recruitment and retention of councillors, and the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales, which is reviewing the remuneration structure for councillors in Wales, including salaries, allowances and pensions that are payable to councillors.

 

The Assembly Government wants to enable the Assembly to legislate to encourage broader and increased participation in local government. It has been a concern for some years that the pool of people from which serving councillors are drawn is rather narrow and several key sectors are seriously under-represented. That situation denies our councils the full range of experience and expertise that they need to carry out their diverse roles.

 

The Assembly Government wants to ensure that councillors at both community and unitary council level are drawn from the widest range of people and are more typical of the communities that they serve. The expert panel and the remuneration panel have been considering issues that we believe present barriers and disincentives to people standing for election to these councils. We are awaiting the final reports of the two panels and will consider their conclusions and any recommendations they might make very carefully. A local government Measure later in the session would be a vehicle for the Assembly to legislate to put into effect proposals stemming from the work of the two panels.

 

The National Assembly for Wales already has legislative competence in relation to many aspects of local government in Wales. These are set out in field 12 of Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. This Order will confer a wider legislative competence on the Assembly than that currently available to the Assembly or the current subordinate legislative power of the Welsh Ministers. Neither the Assembly nor the Welsh Ministers currently have the power to legislate for significant changes to the law covering the topics addressed in the proposed LCO: community councils, community reviews, relationships between tiers of local government, councillor allowances, and the recruitment and retention of councillors.

 

The legislative competence that would be conferred by the proposed Order is a necessary prerequisite to enable the Assembly to make changes to the law in these areas by way of Measures. Our intention is to make proposals for appropriate legislation in a local government Measure later in the session. The details of when the proposed Measure will be introduced will be finalised nearer the time. The aim of the proposed LCO is clearly in line with the Assembly Government’s commitment to strengthening the structures and work of local government in Wales at all levels. The proposed LCO will also enable us to ensure that local councils reach out to, and engage with, all sectors of the communities they serve.

 

 

These are important issues relating to the quality of our democracy and the services provided to local people. I look forward to working with Assembly Members and others with an interest in the health of local government on scrutinising the proposed LCO and, in due course, informing the development of our proposals for a proposed Measure on local government.