Headlines: January 22nd, 2015

A report commissioned by the Welsh Government reveals that a reorganization of local government could deter new councillors from standing for election and impact heavily on democratic processes and representation.

The report from the Cardiff Business School assesses what impact the introduction of the cabinet system in local government has had on decision-making, democracy, scrutiny and accountability in Wales with a view to its future development.

The key findings raise questions about scrutiny practices, transparency, public engagement and awareness, and whether resourcing adequately reflects the importance of the decisions being made at a local governmental level.

A proposal to merge councils would be likely to lead to a reduction in the number of councillors which could directly affect democratic and community representation. Also, regional variances and contextual differences impact upon decision making processes.

Public engagement in local democratic processes could be improved. The public are largely concerned with issues that directly affect them and are put off by labyrinthine processes. Greater use of technology could help such as webcasting meetings, introducing remote attendance and utilising social media.

The report recommends that the Welsh Government and the local government community should work together to build a set of principles to guide the future operation of executive and scrutiny arrangements in Wales.

Dr James Downe , Cardiff Business School, said: ““The findings provide a snapshot of how councils are currently performing and where they could be more effective in their executive and scrutiny arrangements. We believe that a framework of principles should be developed to improve performance and that councils share ‘good practice’ in this area. It is also important to recognise and champion the ‘local voice’ and representative role which councillors embody, as a way of strengthening local democracy and public engagement.”