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Reforms challenge local democracy

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A WHITE PAPER setting out how councils will deliver some of their services together will be unveiled this week by Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford.

The White Paper, which is out for consultation until the beginning of April, is the result of months of discussions between the Welsh Government, local authorities and others on how to strengthen council services in the face of future challenges. It seeks views on proposals for mandatory regional working to deliver a range of services, address workforce issues, and implement electoral reform, including allowing voting at 16. It also calls on members of the public to become active participants in local democracy and in the design and delivery of services.

Amongst the proposals are a mandatory economic development footprint that would also cover certain planning functions and transport.

Councils would have some flexibility over what footprint they use to share responsibilities for other mandated services including education improvement, social services, additional learning needs, public protection and promotion of the Welsh language.

Councillors would make up the membership of new, enhanced joint committees which would oversee these services and make decisions on behalf of their respective councils. Funding arrangements would work on the existing practice of pooled budgets.

The local government workforce is an essential part of these proposals and the Welsh Government will consider, through the Workforce Partnership Council, how to support the transition over to the new arrangements, using statutory guidance where necessary.

Councils would still have the option of merging under the new plans and, where there is local agreement for this, the Welsh Government would work with them to make it a reality.

The White Paper also calls for a different and more equal partnership between people and the public services they use. This would see the development of a new set of principles recognising people as the best experts in how to manage their own lives and putting in place small interventions earlier to resolve issues before they escalate further.

The proposals strike a new balance between clear and unavoidable objectives for local government with flexibility for councils to determine how those shared objectives are best delivered locally. Thus the White Paper proposals provide councils with powers to choose between operating a Cabinet or Committee system and to decide how the activities of councillors are best reported to the electorate. Similarly, views are invited on enabling local authorities to adopt either ‘first past the post’ or ‘single transferable vote’ election systems. Following passage of the Wales Bill, further conversation will take place on a wider set of measures to reform electoral arrangements in Wales to improve both voter registration and turn out at elections.

In line with the new proposals, the Cabinet Secretary also announced that he would be considering how the wider local government finance system could be reformed – ensuring a fairer and more sustainable system to support local authorities in the future.

Setting out the proposals for consultation, the Local Government Secretary said: “This White Paper is not about change for change’s sake. Our councils are working against a backdrop of extraordinary austerity and some services are facing a great deal of pressure. Local government reform is essential if we’re to make these services stronger and more resilient to cope with the demands of the future.

“The new regional arrangements will bring councils together to work more effectively in the interests of people and their communities.

“We want to see a new relationship between councils and their communities where public services support people to live independent lives and intervene only when necessary and only for as long as is required.

“We also want a new relationship between the Welsh Government and our councils; one that is based on mutual respect for the important, and different, roles we each play.

“Underpinning all of these new arrangements will be effective scrutiny and accountability, where councillors act as the champion, advocate and guide for people who elect them.

“I want to thank local authority leaders and others for their help in forming a serious and credible set of proposals. I look forward to working alongside them further following the local government elections in May.”

Economic development footprints would be based on the WLGA regions of South-East Wales, North Wales and Central and South-West Wales. The shape of these regions fits with the economic development areas already in place; namely the Cardiff Capital and Swansea Bay city regions, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and the Growing Mid Wales Partnership.

Crucially, however, there is no election to the quangos the Welsh Government has decided will direct local economies, with members of each being appointed by a variety of public and third sector bodies. Quite how those arrangements will advance and protect local democracy and accountability is a significant question, especially when considering the catalogue of disasters unleashed by similar arrangements in the past.

In particular, there are concerns that key local authority functions, such as oversight of major local planning projects, will end up being determined – either directly or indirectly – by unelected regional boards made up of place-men and women, failed local government bureaucrats, and appointees made up of what – in Welsh political circles – amounts to ‘the usual suspects’.

The consultation will close on April 11 and is available to view on the Welsh Government’s website: consultations.gov.wales.

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Campaigners Thank Local MP, Ben Lake, for Championing Community Energy

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Today campaign group, Power for People, thanked local MP, Ben Lake, for holding a debate last night in the House of Commons to promote community renewable energy by creating a ‘Right to Local Supply’ in law.

Central to the debate was a proposed new law, known as the Local Electricity Bill, that Mr Lake is co-sponsoring and which is supported by 212 MPs. The Bill aims to help rebuild local economies whilst increasing clean energy generation.

If made law, the Bill would empower community-owned local energy companies to sell locally generated renewable electricity directly to local households and businesses.

Currently customers can only purchase electricity from nationally licensed utilities. The Bill’s supporters say this means money people use to pay their energy bills is not helping to rebuild local economies and local clean energy infrastructure.

Responding to the debate, Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, said, “It is certainly something that I as the Energy Minister will be willing to engage with and have a discussion about … I think that with a co-operative spirit, we can get very far.”

Campaigning group, Power for People, are calling for MPs and the government to make the Bill law and are leading a supportive coalition of organisations including Community Energy Wales, Community Energy England, Community Energy Scotland, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB. 62 local authorities have also pledged their support.

Ben Lake, MP for Ceredigion, said, “A Right to Local Supply will empower and enable new community energy companies to sell energy that they generate directly to local people which will accelerate our transition to clean energy and help strengthen local economies. The Local Electricity Bill would enshrine this in law and I will do all I can to ensure it succeeds.”

Power for People’s Director, Steve Shaw, said, “We thank Ben Lake for holding a debate on the Local Electricity Bill in the House of Commons. If made law, the Bill would unleash the huge potential for new community-owned clean energy infrastructure and for this to boost local economies, jobs, services, and facilities in communities across Ceredigion, Wales and the rest of the UK.”

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Ceredigion MP urges UK Government to back Welsh farmers

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THE UK Government has rejected the latest attempt to require imported food to meet domestic legal standards from 1 January.

The Agriculture Bill – designed to prepare the farming industry for when the UK no longer has to follow EU laws and rules next year – returned to the Commons on Monday following amendments by the House of Lords.

During the debate on the Lords amendments in the Commons, Ben Lake MP stated: “This Government have long talked up the benefits of taking back control and of how, post-EU, we will be able to set the terms of our trade with the world. Those terms should be quite simple: UK market access for imports should be dependent on meeting equivalent UK food production standards. Without this safeguard, this Bill threatens the future prosperity of Welsh farming.”

The UK Government says EU rules banning imports of chlorine-washed chicken and other products will be automatically written into UK law once the post-Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

But peers made a number of changes, including one which would give MPs a veto over sections in trade deals relating to food imports, which would be required to comply with “relevant domestic standards”.

They argued these changes were necessary to make it impossible for the US or other countries to export chlorinated chicken or beef injected with hormones.
However, MPs voted by 332 votes to 279 to back government plans to reject the amendment.

In response, Ben Lake MP said: “Last night, Plaid Cymru supported amendments that would have protected food standards in future trade deals and strengthened parliamentary scrutiny of trade negotiations.

“Yet again, the UK Government has let down Welsh farmers when given the chance to protect their livelihoods. Despite all their promises and manifesto commitments, the Government defeated the amendments, exposing our farmers to unfair competition and lower production standards in future trade deals.

“Plaid Cymru will continue to put forward a positive vision for our food producers based on a greater say for our devolved governments and the protection of food standards. This is not because we not only believe them necessary now, but because they are fundamental to our collective tomorrow.”

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Politics

Ceredigion Conservative Association Elects a New Chairman

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On the 18th September, the Ceredigion Conservative Association held its Annual General Meeting, attended remotely by Conservative Members from across the County. The Association was formally re-established and Patrick Loxdale was elected as the new Chairman.

Commenting on his new position, Patrick says:

“ I am very honoured to be given the opportunity to serve in this position. I believe passionately in democracy and the democratic process. The Welsh Conservatives came second in Ceredigion in last year’s General Election, increasing the Conservative vote share by more than the national average. It shows that Conservative values are widely held by people of all ages in Ceredigion, and it is important that we have a functioning local association, and strong candidates to allow their opinions to be heard.”

Patrick, whose family have lived in Llanilar for five generations, previously served as a Medical Officer in The Royal Navy for almost twenty years, qualifying as a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon. From 2001 to 2016 he worked as an NHS Consultant in Devon. Moving back to Llanilar when his brother passed away, Patrick now farms from his family home and enjoys acquiring new knowledge in organic farming and rural management. Patrick adds:

“Ceredigion is a fantastic place to live, with a world beating environment. There are great opportunities for our future and our children’s security, prosperity and fulfilment here. Yet the Labour run Welsh Government continues to fail to grasp this and rarely provides any real focus outside of the M4 corridor! In next year’s Senedd election, the people of Ceredigion deserve a credible alternative choice; a choice that rejects both the on-going failures of Welsh Labour and the separatist ideology of Plaid Cymru. It is time for the people of Ceredigion to vote for the Welsh Conservatives.

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