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With council elections across Wales fast-approaching, we take a look at what councils do and what people are voting for.
What is local government?
Councils, or local authorities as they are known, are responsible for a wide range of local services – some statutory, meaning they have to do them, others not.
According to the Welsh Local Government Association, Wales’ councils provide more than 700 local services.
- Education for example providing schools, transport to get children to school and providing opportunities for adult learning.
- Housing such as finding accommodation for people in need and maintaining social housing.
- Social Services for example caring for and protecting children, older people and disabled people.
- Highways and Transport including maintaining roads and managing traffic flow
- Waste Management including collecting rubbish and recycling.
- Leisure and Cultural Services for example providing libraries, leisure services and arts venues.
- Consumer Protection such as enforcing trading standards and licensing taxis
- Environmental Health and Services for example making sure that the food provided in pubs and restaurants is safe to eat, and controlling pollution locally.
- Planning including managing local development and making sure buildings are safe.
- Economic Development for example attracting new businesses and encouraging tourism.
- Emergency Planning for things like floods or terrorist attacks.
Because of the breadth of services they provide, councils are their areas largest employers and the decisions it makes has a huge impact on people’s day-to-day lives.
How are people represented in a council?
The area a local authority, like Caerphilly County Borough Council, covers is split into wards, and every ward has a minimum of one councillor to represent it.
Depending on the number of residents living in the ward some will have more representatives than others – for example Pontllanfraith has three councillor positions, and Pontlottyn has one.
For each vacancy a resident gets one vote, therefore, in the upcoming election people living in Pontllanfraith will have three votes and Pontlottyn residents will have one.
This does not include the additional votes for the community council elections – which are separate – see below.
Elected councillors then form political groups on the council and the group with the largest number has control over the council. This is usually done along party lines, like Labour or Plaid Cymru, although independent councillors without a party can also form their own group.
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Are community council elections different to the county borough council elections?
In addition to the county borough council election, residents will also vote for those standing for elections to community and town councils on May 5.
In total, there are 18 community or town councils in Caerphilly County Borough.
The community and town councillors are not paid for the work they do, but they do receive £150 a year for expenses.
Community and town councils’ purposes are to improve the quality of life and environment for citizens in their area. For example they are often responsible for local parks and community projects, such as the Undercurrent arts competition in Aber Valley.
County borough councillors will often be a community councillor in their local areas as well, to keep in touch with local issues.
In both the county borough election and the community council elections, on some occasions the number of candidates will not exceed the number of vacancies. In such cases no poll will be held and the candidate will be declared elected.
Funding of local government
Local authorities are mainly funded through council tax and a block grant from the Welsh Government. More recently, the UK Government has also been issuing grants directly to Welsh councils for local projects – much to the annoyance of Welsh Government and causing concern that some areas were missing out for political reasons.
While business rates, or non-domestic rates, are collected by councils, the revenue raised goes to a centralised pot to be redistributed through the Welsh Government’s block grant.
The percentage of council tax is set by the council on an annual basis – in March 2022, Caerphilly County Borough Council decided on a 1.9% increase for the 2022/23 financial year.
Community councils are funded by a levy in addition to their county borough council tax. Areas that do not have a community council do not pay the additional fee.
Why vote on May 5?
Voting in local elections can provide an opportunity for residents to “have their say” in the running of their local area, because they can support the person they believe will represent them and their views best.
Residents can go to their local councillor if they have a concern about a council issue, and the ward councillor can express this on their behalf and campaign for change. An example of this is a ward councillor speaking against an application at a planning committee because their residents have concerns.
Despite the vast area of local influence a council has, the number of people who vote is typically low. In Caerphilly for example the turnout in the 2017 election was 36.3%. The Welsh average was 42.4%.
This year as part of an effort to boost turnout a pilot is being conducted where the council’s Ty Penallta headquarters, in Tredomen, will be open to the public on Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1 for people to vote in advance of the main election day on May 5 – which will run as normal.
The voting process for those wanting to vote early will remain the same, but will take place at the council chambers between 10am and 4pm.
Support quality, independent, local journalism…that matters
From just £3 a month you can help fund our work – and use our website without adverts.
Become a member today