Local Government (Deomocracy) (Wales) Bill

November 28th, 2012 by James Goudie KC

This Bill, introduced by the Welsh Government in the Welsh Assembly on 26 November 2012, is intended to reform the organisation and functions of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales.  The Bill also contains provisions which would amend the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 in relation to the responsibilities of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales and the structure of local authority audit committees.  The Bill includes provisions concerning the public’s access to information concerning town and community councils.  The Bill amends Part III of the Local Government Act 2000 to facilitate the creation by local authorities of joint standards committees.  The Bill contains a provision concerning the role of the Chairman or Mayor of principal councils.

Part 2 of the Bill relates to the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales, as it will be called, implementing proposals in the Mathias Report.  Part 3 describes the types of review of local government areas and arrangements that may be conducted and details the procedure which is to be followed in conducting a review. It also deals with the manner in which any recommendations made as a result of the review are to be implemented. Part 4 relates to reviews by the Commission of qualifying public bodies.

Part 5 of the Bill makes other changes to local government.  Section 51 amends the Local Government Act 1972 so as to allow principal councils to appoint a “presiding member”. A “presiding member” would be able to carry out any of the functions of a council chairman so decided by the council. In particular this provision will enable councils who wish to separate the ceremonial and civic functions associated with the council chairman or mayor from those of presiding over meetings of the council.  No member of the council’s executive may be the presiding member. The term of appointment is a matter for the principal council subject to the limitation that it cannot extend past the next council election.  A council may also appoint a deputy presiding member who, again, must not be a member of the executive.

Section 52 prevents a local authority from promoting a local Bill which concerns a local government area or the political structure of a local authority.

Section 53 requires a community council to publish certain information electronically including details of the council’s membership and business and make provision for members of the public to contact the council or its clerk electronically. The requirement to make information available is subject to normal rules on confidentiality.  A community council must have regard to any guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers in relation to this matter.

Section 54 requires community councils to publish public notices electronically also. Section 55 requires a community council to publish agendas and public reports for forthcoming meetings electronically.

Section 56 amends the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 so as to broaden the scope of a democratic services committee so that, if requested by the authority, they can review anything connected with the support and advice made available to elected members and their terms and conditions.

Section 57 amends the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 so as to provide that an audit committee of a local authority is one to which the rules of political balance (which are set out in section 15 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989) apply.

Section 58 enables the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales, when considering entitlement to a particular payment, to set a limit on the number of councillors who may receive it. This enhances the Panel’s existing power to set a limit on the proportion of councillors who may receive a particular payment.

Section 59 provides that the Welsh Ministers may add to the public bodies whose remuneration should be considered by the Panel. Any such additional body must be one which Welsh Ministers have responsibility for and which includes members of local authorities in its membership. This power is to be carried out by order of Welsh Ministers.

Section 60 changes the date by which the Panel must produce their annual report from 31st December to the 28th February. This has the effect of reducing the time between publication of a report and its implementation the following April. The provisions will also enable the Panel to decide when its reports shall come into force and to backdate its decisions for up to three months.  Section 61 provides that consultation times on draft supplementary reports, currently set at 8 weeks, would be varied to between four and eight weeks.

Section 62 provides that the Panel may require local authorities to publish details of any income received by their members from specified public bodies.

Section 63 amends section 53 of the Local Government Act 2000 so that one or more relevant authorities (ie a county or county borough council, national park authority or a fire and rescue authority in Wales) may establish a joint standards committee. An authority considering establishing a joint committee must have regard to any guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers.  Section 63 also amends section 54 of the 2000 Act to provide that a standards committee must, in exercising any of its functions, have regard to any relevant guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers.

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