Alun Davies, Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services
I support the role of community and town councils as an integral part of local government, closest to people and local communities and working with local authorities and other partners to improve the wellbeing of their area.
The independent review of the community and town council sector is nearing completion. I met Panel members on 13 June and received their emerging findings and recommendations on 17 July.
I am pleased that the Panel have undertaken a considerable amount of engagement with the sector in order to develop their recommendations. The Panel are now in the process of working their recommendations into a final report, which I anticipate will be submitted to me in the Autumn. I understand the panel are intending to share their emerging findings, and will be holding information sessions over the Summer.
The Panel’s work has been broad-ranging and their findings are similarly comprehensive, addressing what community and councils are; what they do; how they do it; and how they are held to account. I will provide a further update once I have received their final report.
The importance of a constructive and mutually supportive relationship between town and community councils and principal councils has been a clear theme of the evidence the Panel have gathered. I look forward to considering their emerging thinking and recommendations on how this can be strengthened.
The original guidance on relationship building measures and charters: ‘A Shared Community’ was issued ten years ago to both local authorities and community and town councils. This guidance was the result of research and collaboration between the then Assembly Government, One Voice Wales, Welsh Local Government Association, Society of Local Council Clerks and representatives from community and town councils and local authorities.
I want to further stimulate more of the positive ways of working between local authorities and community and town councils and provide a platform to share the good examples. Later this year, building upon a similar, successful event in July 2017 held at the Pierhead Building, I intend to host an event for councillors from local authorities and community and town councils.
The event will share good practice on issues around formalising relationships between both sectors of local government and how such relationships can benefit the process around the transfer of services and assets.
Alongside this, I am progressing a number of actions to help community and town councils be more effective and resilient in the short to medium term, and ensure they are in the best place to engage on an equal basis with local authorities and other partners.
I have made modest funding available in 2018-19 to facilitate the initial setting up of joint arrangements between community and town councils around themes of community engagement; increasing citizen participation and engagement in local democracy; and enabling working together on a shared service.
Training for councillors and council clerks is being incentivised through continued funding of bursary schemes which encourages smaller councils, with an annual turnover of less than £40,000, to participate in training.
Ahead of the local government elections in May 2017 Welsh Government published “The good councillor’s guide”, updating the second edition from 2012. The guide is an introduction to being a community or town councillor, suitable for all councillors, but particularly useful for those who have recently been elected or co-opted to a council.
Community and town councils asked for easier access to relevant and up-to date information to help them on the journey of taking on more community assets. We worked with the sector to better understand their needs and will shortly publish an on-line “toolkit” as a handy reference guide of checklists, templates and case studies for them. We intend to build and tailor this resource further during 2018-19.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.