The report is a significant and considered response to the immense changes being experienced in modern local government. The conclusions it reaches are a timely recognition of the emergence of a radically different role for councillors and the support they require. It puts forward broad recommendations to challenge the barriers that prevent a cross-section of the community from standing as councillors.
Following a special meeting of the Co-ordinating Committee of the WLGA, Cllr Sir Harry Jones CBE, Leader of the WLGA commented:
'The Association broadly welcomes the recommendations of this report. The WLGA believes that the remuneration bands for councillors are realistic and reflect the burdens of full-time council leadership.
'It is recognised that the range of citizens from whom elected representatives are chosen needs to be widened. In a healthy democracy it is important that there shall be no barrier - financial, social or domestic - that prevents individuals from serving their community - this report goes a long way to create a level playing-field for public office. The stimulus to increase diversity of representation through encouragement of women, ethnic minorities, young people and other social groups to stand for office is welcomed by the Association.
'The National Assembly should be congratulated on their decision to engage the acknowledged expertise of Dr Declan Hall of the University of Birmingham to undertake this study.'
The role of councillor is becoming ever more complex. The sweeping changes currently occurring in Welsh local government, through the establishment of Cabinet/Scrutiny systems, the power to promote wellbeing and Best Value require huge commitment and time from all councillors. As public servants many existing councillors have lost money and promotion prospects as a result of their commitment to serving communities. It is hardly surprising in this context that the next generation of councillors is not coming forward.
Sandy Blair, Director of the WLGA added:
'The report proposes far-reaching recommendations not only to recompense councillors but to improve representation of all sections of our community, to assist family members with childcare, and to set in place training budgets. It also makes proposals to maintain transparent accountability, with suggestions such as an annual report of attendance and activities councillors have undertaken and a 'clawback scheme' should members fail to carry out formal duties without due reason.
'Councillors at all levels have responsibility for the most important front-line services which affect daily life in Wales including education, social services, highways and regeneration and it is proper that this is reflected in a realistic scheme of remuneration. The report published today fully recognises this and brings to end misconceptions about a democratic role which has long been undervalued.
'It will remain the right and duty of each local authority either on its own or in association with others to determine what is appropriate for its area but clearly this report sets out what might be appropriate given the duties and population covered.'
The WLGA Co-ordinating Committee is a meeting of the leaders/chairs (or his/her representative) of each of the 22 local authorities in Wales. It normally meets once a month and performs the executive function of the WLGA.
The Report to be presented to the National Assembly's Local Government and Housing Committee on 18 July 2001 can be found on the National Assembly website.