Pwyllgor y Llywydd
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|David Rees MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Janet Finch-Saunders MS|
|Joyce Watson MS|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS||Yn dirprwyo ar ran Rhys ab Owen|
|Substitute for Rhys ab Owen|
|Peredur Owen Griffiths MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Elan Closs Stephens||Comisiwn Etholiadol|
|Kieran Rix||Comisiwn Etholiadol|
|Rhydian Thomas||Comisiwn Etholiadol|
|Shaun McNally||Comisiwn Etholiadol|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Bethan Garwood||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Craig Griffiths||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:03.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:03.
Good morning. Can I welcome Members and witnesses to this morning's meeting of the Llywydd's Committee? Can I take a few moments to remind everyone of our normal rules? We are operating in a hybrid manner and, therefore, we will have Members both in the room and online, and our witnesses will also be online this morning. If there are technical problems, please let us know so we can organise ICT to ensure we resolve them as quickly as possible.
There are no scheduled fire alarms this morning in the building—actually, we just had one—so if one does go off, please, those who are in the building, follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location. Can I remind Members to make sure their mobile devices are either off or on silent? Simultaneous translation is available; for those online, it is available via the app; for those in the committee room, it is available via the headphones—channel 1 for simultaneous translation and channel 0 for the—I can't think of the word—enhancement to make sure you can hear better. Amplification—got it. Thank you very much.
Can we now move on to the business of today? We've received apologies from Rhys ab Owen and we welcome Llyr Gruffydd, who's substituting for him today. Do any Members wish to declare an interest at this point in time? I see none.
Therefore, we move on to item 2 on our agenda, which is the scrutiny of the Electoral Commission’s financial estimates 2023-24, and also the supplementary budget request for the year 2022-23. I’d like to welcome our witnesses from the Electoral Commission this morning. I see you on the screen, so I’m going to go from left to right on my screen, and Elan is first, so if you could introduce yourselves and your position within the commission.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd. My name is Elan Closs Stephens and I’m the electoral commissioner for Wales. I think, when you’ve gone round everybody, Dirprwy Lywydd, we have agreed with your officials that we would just say a few words of introduction to the bulk of the matter before us at the beginning, if you’d be so content.
We will do so. Shaun.
Shaun McNally, the chief executive of the Electoral Commission. I started with the commission on 1 April.
Bore da, good morning. I’m Rhydian Thomas, I’m head of the Electoral Commission in Wales.
Good morning. I'm Kieran Rix, I’m the director of finance and corporate services for the commission.
Thank you all. And as Elan said, we will now offer the opportunity to give a brief introductory statement from the commission, so over to you.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. I’m going to kick off in Welsh if I may, and then introduce Shaun to you.
Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi am roi eich amser i ni y bore yma. Rydyn ni yma i roi ateb i unrhyw gwestiynau sydd gennych chi, wrth gwrs, am amcangyfrifon y Comisiwn Etholiadol a gweithgaredd y comisiwn yn ystod y flwyddyn ariannol 2023-24.
Fel rydych chi’n gwybod, dros y 12 mis diwethaf, rydyn ni wedi cael etholiadau llywodraeth leol ledled Cymru, ac mae’r rheini yn rhai cymhleth iawn—cymhleth oherwydd y nifer o aelodau sydd yn sefyll o’i gymharu â’r nifer sydd yn sefyll mewn etholiad cyffredinol neu etholiad y Senedd. Rydych chi wedi cael ein hadroddiad ni, ac mi roedd yr etholiadau ar y cyfan wedi cael eu cynnal yn dda iawn. Mae llwyddiant y broses yn genedlaethol yn dyst, dwi’n meddwl, i ymroddiad a gwaith caled iawn y gymuned etholiadol yng Nghymru, yn enwedig, felly—a dwi am eu henwi nhw—aelodau bwrdd cydlynu etholiadol Cymru, sydd yn cynnwys rhai o weision sifil y comisiwn, a’r rhwydwaith ehangach o swyddogion canlyniadau a gweinyddwyr etholiadol.
Rydyn ni’n cynnwys nifer o argymhellion ar gyfer gwella, gyda’r nod o atgyfnerthu’r system. Ond yn bwysicaf oll i ni yn y comisiwn, ac i mi yn bersonol fel comisiynydd, mae hwn yn cynnwys rhoi llawer rhagor o gymorth i bleidleiswyr ifanc yng Nghymru i gymryd rhan lawn yn y broses ddemocrataidd. Felly, mae datblygu ein gwaith addysg ni yn flaenoriaeth allweddol i’r comisiwn wrth edrych i’r dyfodol.
Yn ogystal â hynny, mi fydd yna ffocws arall i waith y comisiwn yng Nghymru dros y flwyddyn nesaf, sef rhoi cyngor, cymorth ac arweiniad i Lywodraeth Cymru ar ddiwygiadau etholiadol a diwygiadau i’r Senedd wrth iddyn nhw gael eu datblygu trwy ddeddfwriaeth. Mae gennym ni, dwi’n meddwl, dair blaenoriaeth, sef cynnal ffydd yn y system; bod unrhyw newid yn rhoi mantais debygol i bleidleiswyr; a bod y newidiadau yn rhai y gall gweinyddwyr etholiadol eu cyflawni yn realistig o fewn yr amser a’r adnoddau sydd ar gael iddyn nhw.
Thank you very much for giving of your time this morning. We are here to answer any questions that you may have, of course, on the Electoral Commission’s estimates and the activities of the commission during the financial year 2023-24.
As you know, over the past 12 months we’ve had local government elections across Wales, and these are very complex. They’re complex because of the number standing for election as compared to the numbers standing in a general election or a Senedd election. You will have received our report, and the elections generally speaking were held very successfully. The success of the process nationally is testament, I think, to the commitment and very hard work of the electoral community in Wales, particularly—and I will name them—the members of the electoral co-ordination board in Wales, which includes some commission civil servants and a broader network of returning officers and election administrators.
We make a number of recommendations for improvement with the aim of strengthening the system, but most importantly for us in the commission, and for me personally as commissioner, this does include providing far more support to young voters in Wales so that they can participate fully in the democratic process. So, developing our work in education is a key priority of the commission as we look to the future.
In addition to that, there will be an additional focus to the commission’s work in Wales over the next year, namely providing advice and support to Welsh Government on electoral reform and Senedd reform as they are developed in legislation. We have three priorities, namely maintaining confidence in the system; ensuring that any change gives benefits to voters; and that the changes are ones that electoral administrators can deliver realistically within the timetable and resources available to them.
I’d like now to turn to the accounting officer and chief executive of the commission, Shaun McNally. It had been our intention, if I may say so, Dirprwy Lywydd, that Shaun would lead overall on this in terms of giving questions to various people on the team, but I have to say he has very, very gallantly come on the screen this morning, since he is suffering from COVID. We’re all very, very pleased to see him, but I will be taking the lead temporarily in terms of sending questions to various members of the team. So, over to you, Shaun, for perhaps a broad overview of what we're here to talk about this morning.
Thank you, Elan. I am very much looking forward to working with the committee, and I welcome scrutiny of our financial estimates and estimate memorandum. Within the memorandum, we have outlined the bid for next year, which comes to £1.41 million. That covers indirect and direct costs, with a specific focus on supporting Welsh electoral reform and education work, alongside providing guidance and support to the wider electoral community. We have also submitted a supplementary estimate for £122,000, driven largely by salary increases, early voting pilots and public campaigns. I would just say that, for me, one of the first locations I visited upon starting with the commission was to come down to Wales and to visit the early pilots. And what I saw, and the evidence that subsequently followed and feedback, was that the elections across Wales were very well run indeed. Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr am y datganiad hwnnw.
Thank you for that statement.
Thank you very much, Shaun, for your contribution, and I wish you well in your recovery from COVID. Can I welcome you to your first meeting of the committee in your new role? You're very much welcome. Can I also put on record our thanks to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution for his contribution in providing advice on the estimate, which we've received as a committee? And can I thank the commission for its submission of a report on the elections in 2022, but also for its financial estimate and a letter on the supplementary budget, which has helped us prepare for this meeting? But, as you would probably think, that raises questions for us to ask, particularly on the supplementary budget to start with. I'll hand over to Peredur, who's going to discuss the questions on the supplementary budget in the first instance.
Bore da, a diolch yn fawr ichi am ddod y bore yma.
Good morning, and thank you very much for attending this morning.
I'd like to start by trying to understand the reasons why the commission has submitted a supplementary budget, and whether the pandemic impacted its activities and costs. My first question is in three parts. The commission has submitted a supplementary budget for 2022-23, which includes a contribution to the pay award, which it says is higher than expected. Firstly, what assumptions were made in the original estimate for 2022-23 about the pay awards, and why the actual costs were higher? Secondly, could you expand on who received the salary awards and the costs incurred? And thirdly, how the cost of these salary awards were apportioned to Wales.
I'll ask Kieran Rix, our finance director, to answer in detail, and I'm sure that our chief executive will want to add anything that might have been overlooked.
Kieran, you're not unmuted. Okay, you can go ahead now.
Thank you, Elan, and thank you, Chair. I can address all three of those points. The assumption that we made when we submitted our estimate to you—the budget was being prepared during September 2021—was that the pay award would be 2 per cent, which was then in line with civil service pay policy. It became increasingly clear after we'd submitted the estimate that that was not going to be sustainable, and we have actually settled on a pay award of a 4 per cent consolidated increase, plus a £1,000 non-consolidated pay award to all members of staff. A very, very small number of staff were affected by an increase in our minimum wage. It affected two or three staff, so that's really not significant in terms of the numbers. Those three assumptions together were significantly higher than we had expected at the time when we submitted the estimate, but that's partly offset by savings elsewhere in the pay bill.
As to who received it, as I said, everybody received the 4 per cent and the £1,000, but the minimum wage affected two or three people at the bottom of the organisation. And as for how it's apportioned, it was apportioned in line with the way we apportion all costs. That happens in two stages: direct costs and, in this case, direct salaries. Where we can identify that people are working on specifically Welsh issues, their salaries are charged directly to your contribution. That accounts for part of the pay; the other part of the pay award comes through the indirect costs, where those are apportioned according to population shares across the UK.
You said you made some savings in the overall pay. Where were those savings made?
Those savings come from across the organisation and are largely due to vacancies and time taken to recruit.
And is that then apportioned back to Wales, or how does that work?
Yes. Yes. You get your proportionate share of that, yes.
Okay, thank you. The supplementary estimate says more public awareness activity was required in 2022–23 for the elections in May, and the commission needs to correct the allocation of campaign costs across the UK, and you're seeking an additional £62,000 for this. Can the commission explain why it needs to correct the allocation of campaign costs across the UK, and then what new financial planning arrangements has the commission put in place to ensure allocations are more robust in the future?
Can we continue with you, Kieran? Thank you.
Yes. So, yes, I think I can answer that. Essentially, we put special arrangements in place to make sure that we got the scrutiny of costs to the devolved contributors, to devolved funders, last year. In working through the amount of activity that was required in Wales and Scotland, we got that allocation wrong, despite those additional controls. I would like to place on record my apologies for that. This is of course the first time we had done that, but that isn't an adequate excuse; we had tried to put additional arrangements in place. We have strengthened those arrangements, with earlier engagement between finance and the communications team and the devolved offices to make sure that we really do capture what the correct amount of activity is for each year, and we're discussing what else we can do to make sure we get that right as well. So, we're continuing to work at that. I'm reasonably confident, given that there are no devolved elections, that we've got that amount right for the coming year. But, again, we have taken a lot of action to make sure we've got our processes much stronger and that we've learnt from the first year.
Okay. Thank you very much. In your supplementary estimate, you state that it's been common practice for the Government to fund its work on election pilots directly. It received legal advice that, as the assessments were a statutory function of the commission, the work should not be funded in this way. Can you explain the reasons why the funding issue related to the early voting pilots wasn't identified prior to undertaking the evaluation, and how did this impact on the commission's planned activities in Wales and its funding?
Kieran—I'm sorry, Kieran—do you want to carry on?
Yes, of course. So, this was essentially a timing issue. When we were preparing the budget in September 2021, there were a lot of unknowns still about how the evaluation process would work; for example, we didn't yet know which local authorities would be involved. So, we had to make some assumptions, both about what the level of activity would be and about how that would be funded. We then went through a process of discussing with the Welsh Government and with others, after we'd submitted the estimate—working to their timetable, working to the Government's timetable—we went through a process of discussions with the Government to try and establish exactly what we'd be doing, and it was as a part of those discussions that we took legal advice on what could and what couldn't be funded by a section 10 request, and that identified that this wasn't going to be fundable by a section 10 request, as would have been previous practice. So, we've tightened up our practice around that, and we are now seeking funding from the committee rather than from the Welsh Government. I should stress that, overall, at a whole of Wales level, that's neutral, there's no additional cost; it is just about, I'm sorry to say, who picks up the bill.
Right. Okay. Thank you. And I'm assuming that that then means that it's smoothed out and similar problems won't happen in the future?
Yes, we would definitely seek to take legal advice at the earliest possible stage. Sorry—Shaun wants to come in. Of course, in preparing a budget, you have to make assumptions about what will happen in the future—you can never be entirely sure. But, as I say, we would definitely involve legal much earlier in the process.
Shaun, you can come back in.
I would just like to say and to add that this has proven an opportunity for us to learn, and I would hope to avoid issues of this nature again arising in the future. I also think, in terms of looking back, perhaps we could have flagged a developing and emerging issue earlier, and that is something that I would like to build upon with the committee so that it isn't left until a formal submission of an estimate to flag the fact that we incorrectly identified costs at the time of the submission of the estimate.
I want to go back, before I ask Peredur to continue, to the question related to the costs. As you admitted, you got it wrong at £62,000. Can I just ask: is that specifically for Wales or is that the proportion for Wales as a consequence of getting it wrong across the UK? Because there are local government elections across the UK, of course.
That's specifically for Wales; that's not an apportionment. We wrongly identified some activity as applying to the UK when it was actually planned for Wales when we were doing our planning, and that's why we've put enhanced scrutiny arrangements in place internally to make sure we get the right activity in the right budgets first time.
Okay, thank you.
We asked last year, I believe, that we were kept abreast of costs that happened because of COVID. How did the COVID pandemic impact on the commission's activities and costs during 2022-23?
Shaun, do you want to take the overall pattern?
Yes. The overall position was one of neutrality. There wasn't a direct impact because of COVID, and it certainly didn't raise the same issues that we'd seen in previous years of the pandemic.
Thank you very much.
I don't know whether Rhydian would want to add anything on Wales. We did do a huge amount of preparation work on COVID issues right at the beginning of the pandemic, and I think that we learnt a lot of very valuable lessons from returning officers at that period.
Absolutely, but nothing to add in terms of there were no additional costs as a result of the pandemic in the financial year.
So, was that due to good learning from what had happened in the previous couple of years, and therefore there were no surprises, as it were?
Yes, and also, of course, the bulk of the costs relate to returning officers and to the local authorities running the elections.
Right, okay. Thank you. If we could just move on to your outturn against the estimate of 2021-22, the commission published a Wales annual report for 2021-22 that included a £96,000 underspend. How is the commission treating the £96,000 underspend?
Kieran, do you want to expand on this? Thank you.
Yes, thank you. So, that £96,000 was never drawn down. We draw down funding as we incur costs, so, essentially, the amount of funding we received was lower than planned by £96,000, as was the funding. So, it's not that we were overfunded and need to return the funding or anything like that; we underspent by £96,000 as a result of lower than expected costs for producing guidance and for campaigns and depreciation, and therefore we were able to not draw down that funding. So, that's funding that has stayed in Wales and not come to the commission.
Okay. Thank you very much.
Can I ask a quick question on that, please? Is that because of—? You said that there was an underspend and you didn't pull it down, I accept that, but is that because of efficiencies as a consequence of the commission's considerations, or is that simply because you overestimated activities?
That's as a result of lower than expected costs for producing the guidance and for producing the digital transparency campaign. So, that is, essentially, efficiencies.
Thanks, Chair. Thanks. The commission doesn't include outturn data when presenting annual estimates to this committee. This would enable the committee, obviously, to consider the actual and potential under or overspends for current and previous financial years and how these may impact on the resources being requested in the latest estimate. Would it be possible for the commission to publish the actual outturns to enable the committee to analyse the under and overspends?
I think this might be for you, Shaun, initially, and Kieran might add to it. Thank you.
Yes. So, we did publish the actual outturn in a note to the audited annual report and accounts, in line with generally accepted accounting practice and rules covering Government bodies, but anything that we can do to improve the transparency of the information to this committee, I believe we should do that.
It would be good to see the breakdown. And if you could provide projected outturns for the current financial year when submitting the main estimates, so that the committee can scrutinise the spending, that would be very useful as well. So, if we have your commitment for that, then that would be great.
I am happy to commit to that.
That's it. Diolch, Chair.
Thank you. If we move on now to the actual estimate for 2023-24, clearly there are some questions here, and I'm going to hand over to Llyr Gruffydd.
Ie. Diolch, Gadeirydd. Bore da, bawb. Mae cyfanswm yr hyn sydd gennych chi yn eich amcangyfrif ar gyfer blwyddyn nesaf dim ond 0.4 y cant yn is o'i gymharu â'r un gwreiddiol ar gyfer eleni, sydd yn ostyngiad negligible iawn. Fel lleygwr yn edrych o bell, mi fyddwn i'n tybio, gan fod yna ddim etholiad ar y gweill yn y flwyddyn i ddod, mi ddylai'r costau fod dipyn yn is. Allwch chi esbonio pam nad ydyn nhw?
Yes. Thank you, Chair. Good morning, all. The total contribution of what you have in your estimates for next year is only 0.4 per cent less compared to the original estimate for this year, which is a very negligible reduction. As a layman looking from afar, I would assume that, because there's no election in the coming year, costs should be considerably lower. Can you explain why they aren't?
I think I'd like to ask you, Shaun, and possibly Rhydian might come in with some detail on the Wales office work.
I think there are a couple of key drivers to the costs, and, if I think about breaking them down—people, campaigns, regulation and estates and digital work—the first driver for increased cost is HM Treasury's guidance on how we treat and allow for inflation, and they have asked us to allow for 3.1 per cent. There is also an increase in the level of salaries, because of course the increase this year carries over into next year, and I anticipate having to make an award of a similar level. Then there is work that we're doing to support the electoral reform in Wales. And it also recognises that there are areas that we've been working on in terms of regulation, which is looking at putting more resource up front to help and to support campaigners in political parties to comply with the regulations rather than pivot to enforcement, and that requires an investment up front.
And—. Oh, yes.
Sorry. Thanks, Shaun. If I can just add as well, in terms of the detail of the work, we've got two pretty comprehensive pieces of legislation potentially going through. We've seen the White Paper from the Welsh Government, which is very ambitious, and running alongside that is the programme for Senedd reform. We've got some experience of looking at legislation—two pieces of legislation running alongside each other from the work around the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill, then Act, and the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill. So, we want to make sure that we've got the resource that is required to scrutinise and to respond to those two pretty significant pieces of work in the detail that is required. And also on education, which we'll come on to, I'm sure, there is a great deal of work that's required on education and learning. We've picked up a lot of good practice and work over the last two years, but we realise there's a fair bit more to do. And now we're moving into affairs of focusing on education, not just in those six weeks prior to an election, which has been done previously, but actually as a year-round activity, and that's going to require some key additional resource. So, those are the two key areas of work on the ground, as well as the additional support to the regulatory function, which Shaun has mentioned.
Jest yn benodol ar y costau rheoliadol yna, hynny ydy, bydd yna fwy o gost yn y flwyddyn sydd i ddod, ond dydych chi ddim yn rhagweld y byddwch chi'n dod ar ofyn Cymru am yr arian yna'n flynyddol—na? Mae'n rhywbeth i chi ei wneud i newid y diwylliant ychydig, ac wedyn, bydd hynny'n edrych ar ôl ei hunan, ie? Ydw i wedi deall yn iawn?
Just specifically on those regulation costs, there will be more costs in the year to come, but you don't foresee that you will be asking Wales for that on an annual basis. It's something that you're doing to change the culture a little, and then that will look after itself. Have I understood that correctly?
Yes, it is aimed to change the culture, and much will depend on what we see in terms of behaviour as a result of the work that's been done with additional support and guidance. I wouldn't want to say to the committee at this stage that this is a one-off cost, because certainly, from my perspective, I want us to move more into the area of help and support to encourage compliance, rather than focus on after the event with enforcement for failure to comply with the regulations.
Os gallaf i ychwanegu hefyd, mae Shaun yn iawn, rydyn ni eisiau dechrau'r broses nawr o siarad yn fwy a mwy efo'r pleidiau, nid jest y pleidiau mwyaf yng Nghymru sy'n cael eu cynrychioli yn y Senedd, ond y pleidiau i gyd sy'n aros am etholiad. Rydyn ni'n ymwybodol iawn y bydd yna fwy o bolisi, o ddeddfwriaeth, yn dod i lawr a bydd mwy o siarad efo'r pleidiau, felly mae'n mynd i ddod yn broses sy'n eithaf cyson. Felly, dwi ddim yn siŵr ei bod hi'n iawn i ddweud ei bod hi'n rhywbeth sy'n one-off, fel petai, am y flwyddyn ariannol nesaf; rydyn ni eisiau siarad mwy efo pobl ac efo'n partneriaid ni.
If I could add to that, Shaun's absolutely right, we want to start the process now of speaking more and more with the parties, not just the larger parties in Wales that are represented in the Senedd but all the parties that are awaiting an election. We are highly aware that there will be more policy and more legislation coming down the pipeline, and we'll need to speak to the parties. So, it's going to be an ongoing process. So, I'm not sure that it's right to say that it's a one-off thing just for the next financial year; we do need to speak more to our partners generally.
Ond mae cynnydd o 70 y cant yn eithaf sylweddol, onid ydy? Hynny yw, y cwestiwn dwi'n gofyn yw: sut allwn ni sicrhau bod yna werth am y buddsoddiad sylweddol uwch nawr, o ran canran yn sicr, oherwydd does yna ddim newid rheoliadau wedi bod? Hynny yw, rhyw initiative gennych chi yw hwn, a dwi'n gwerthfawrogi'r angen i fagu'r bydolwg neu'r diwylliant gwahanol yma ymhlith y bobl sy'n gorfod cwrdd â'r rheoliadau, wrth gwrs, oherwydd mi fuasai yna arbedion lawr y lein, a dwi'n tybio mai dyna yw'r cymhelliad i chi yn fan hyn. Y cwestiwn dwi'n gofyn yw: sut allwn ni gael sicrwydd bod hwn ddim yn bennu lan fel rhywbeth fydd jest yn y ceisiadau fydd yn dod o flwyddyn i flwyddyn?
But an increase of 70 per cent is quite substantial, isn't it? The question I'm asking is: how can we ensure that there is value regarding that investment, which is significantly higher? There's no change in regulation, it's an initiative by yourselves, and I appreciate the need, perhaps, to nurture this different culture and the culture related to the people having to be in line with this regulation, because there would be savings down the line, and I guess that's your motivation here. The question I'm asking is: how can we have assurances that this won't end up as requests that will come in from year to year?
Wel, wrth gwrs, mae gennych chi'r hawl bob amser i ofyn cwestiynau manwl ynglŷn â'r gweithgaredd, ond dwi'n meddwl efallai y buasai ein prif weithredwr, Shaun, yn hoffi dweud gair am hyn.
Of course, you always have the right to ask detailed questions on the activity, but perhaps our chief executive, Shaun, would like to say a few words on this.
I certainly welcome the scrutiny and I would certainly be more than happy to be held to account for the activity delivering the outcomes that we seek to achieve. We can, if necessary, provide more information should this committee want to see it and put us to proof.
Ie, buasai hynny'n werthfawr. Diolch am y cynnig hynny. Gaf i—
Yes, that would be very valuable. Thank you very much for that offer. May I—
Dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni hefyd yn ymateb, Llyr—
I think we're also responding, Llyr—
—to what's been told to us by various political parties. Quite often, as you know yourself, on the ground, agents and people who are helping to run elections for political parties are quite often not professionals and they carry a huge burden of responsibility, and sometimes, they can be called to account legally for something they've done or not done. And so, I think it's very important that we pivot towards help and support.
Ie. Ocê. Diolch am hynny. Dwi jest eisiau dod yn ôl at chwyddiant. Yn amlwg, mae hynny'n ffactor bwysig ym mhob dim y dyddiau yma. Dwi'n tybio bod ymdrechion wedi eu gwneud i ffeindio arbedion er mwyn lliniaru ar y pwysau cost sy'n dod yn sgil chwyddiant. Allwch chi sôn ychydig am y broses yna o gydbwyso, o orfod cyllidebu am chwyddiant fel ag y mae e, ond ar y llaw arall wedyn ffeindio arbedion mewn mannau eraill er mwyn trio peidio â dod â chais yn rhy uchel, efallai, ger ein bron ni?
Yes. Okay. Thank you for that. I just want to come back to inflation. Obviously, that is an important factor in everything these days. I assume that there have been efforts to find efficiencies in order to mitigate inflationary cost pressures as a result of inflation. Can you explain a little bit about that process of balancing and having to budget for inflation as it is, but on the other hand then finding efficiencies in other areas in order to try to bring an estimate that's not too high before us?
Shaun, I'm sure that you would want to offer your own views on this.
So, from my perspective, there are things that we have done and we are protected, to some extent, because of the work that we do to negotiate leases and agreements on accommodation. We are seeing increases in the cost of utility prices across the commission, but we are also taking measures to use energy-efficient lighting, et cetera, to try and reduce and draw down and put pressure on the cost. Of course, we will constantly look to ensure that we run a competitive process when we are looking to award contracts and where there is competition, you can strive for best value. But I think we are in uncharted territory; I can't recall 12 months like the 12 months that we have seen, but I am confident that we have taken steps to ensure that we are protected against inflationary pressures for 2023-24. I don't know if Kieran wants to add anything more specifically.
No, Shaun. You took the example that I would have used, which is our energy bills, where some of our leases insulate us, to some extent, from cost pressures. But also, as Shaun says, changing our lighting—we estimate that that will save almost exactly the same amount as the additional pressure that we think we're experiencing. So, that's a capital expenditure that will pay for itself in probably about 18 months to two years. So, we can see the savings coming through in real time.
I think the other big efficiency that we've made in the last year is to move from on-premise computing to cloud computing, where, although you see resource costs go up because you're spending less capital, actually, over time, that is of substantial benefit in terms of the total cost of ownership across the whole life. So, we are doing the things to reduce our cost base and allow us to be as efficient as we can be.
Iawn, diolch. Un peth rŷn ni'n gwybod, wrth gwrs, yw bod yna ailwampio a symud i swyddfa fwy yn digwydd yng Nghaerdydd. Allwch chi roi mwy o fanylion i ni am y costau sy'n gysylltiedig gyda hynny, a pam eich bod chi'n teimlo bod angen symud i swyddfa fwy, yn enwedig nawr gan ein bod ni'n gweld rhai pobl yn gweithio o gartref yn gynyddol? Onid yw hynny yn newid yr angen am swyddfa fwy?
Thank you. One thing that we do know, of course, is that there has been refitting and moving to a larger office in Cardiff. Can you provide us with more details regarding the costs involved with that, and why do you feel that there is a need to move to a larger office, especially now, when we see more and more people working from home? Doesn't that change the need for a larger office?
A fuasech chi'n licio ateb, Rhydian?
Well, Rhydian, would you like to take that question?
Dwi'n siŵr y gall Kieran ychwanegu unrhyw fanylion, ond dyw'r swyddfa sydd gan y comisiwn ar hyn o bryd ddim yn ein galluogi ni—nid jest o ran niferoedd staff, ond does dim y lle i bob un aelod staff ac i fwy o aelodau staff i fod ar y safle. Rŷn ni'n edrych yn fwyfwy i ddod â staff y byddai'r tu allan i dîm Cymru'r comisiwn—efallai y byddan nhw'n rhan o unedau gwahanol y comisiwn yn Llundain—i ddod i Gymru ac i weithio yn yr Alban ac mewn llefydd eraill. Felly, dyw'r swyddfa sydd ar gael ar hyn o bryd—a dŷn ni wedi bod yn y swyddfa nawr ers rhyw ddeng mlynedd a mwy—ddim yn ein galluogi ni i wneud beth rŷn ni am ei wneud, fel petai. Dwi'n siŵr y gall Kieran ychwanegu unrhyw fanylion.
Well, I'm sure that Kieran can add any details, but the office that the commission has at present doesn't enable us—not only in terms of staff numbers, but we simply don't have the space for all staff members and for more staff to be on that site. We are looking more and more to bring staff from outside the Wales team in the commission—they might be from the commission's different units in London—to work in Wales and in Scotland and elsewhere too. So, the office that's currently available to us—and we've been there now for some 10 years and more—simply doesn't allow us to do what we want to do. I'm sure that Kieran can add any details on that.
Kieran, do you want to come in on this?
Just to emphasise what Rhydian has said: that we are increasingly trying to recruit outside of London. That's across the UK, but we do see Cardiff as a particularly kind of fruitful area to be recruiting in, and as a kind of centre to recruit to. So, we're looking to grow the office so that it can support significantly more staff, not just the Wales team, but colleagues from all functions across the commission, and that's one of the reasons why we want to invest in the Wales office.
So, oes gennyhch chi darged o faint o bobl ychwanegol rŷch chi'n gobeithio recriwtio i Gymru, neu i'w lleoli, eu hadleoli, efallai, neu eu lleoli yng Nghymru, i ni gael syniad o'r achos sydd wedi cael ei wneud am gynnydd mewn maint swyddfa?
So, do you have a target of how many people you're hoping to recruit to Wales, or relocate, or locate in Wales, for us to have an idea of the case that's been made for an increase in the size of the office?
No, we don't have a target at this stage, we're still working through the planning. But we have to co-ordinate that with the times that Companies House can move us.
Achos byddai rhai pobl yn gweld ei bod hi'n od bod yna gyrff cyhoeddus sy'n 'downsize-o' pan fo'n dod i stad neu swyddfeydd ac yn y blaen a'ch bod chi—. Hynny yw, petai yna gynllun clir ynglŷn â niferoedd a phobl yn dod ac yn y blaen dros gyfnod o amser, byddai rhywun yn deall bod modd 'quantify-o' hynny, ond dwi ddim yn clywed hynny ar hyn o bryd, ond dwi'n meddwl bod Shaun eisiau dod i mewn.
Because some people would see it as odd that when some public bodies are downsizing when it comes to their estate or office and so forth, you are—. If there were a clear plan in terms of numbers and people were coming over a period of time, one would understand, perhaps, that there's a way of quantifying that. But I'm not hearing that. I think Shaun wants to come in
Dwi'n meddwl, o ran y bwrdd, fod hwn yn rhywbeth sydd angen ei ddatblygu, ond yr amcan ydy symud pobl allan o Lundain dros gyfnod o amser.
I think in terms of the board, this is something that needs to be developed, but the aim is that we will be moving people out of London over a period of time.
Shaun, did you want to add to that?
Yes. I think that we need to reimagine the way in which we use our estate, but my commitment on arrival at the commission was to look to get talent wherever that may be and that we wouldn't specify a specific location for a role. But, having the space and the facilities in Cardiff enables us to do that, but the accommodation, of itself, doesn't even allow, now, for bringing the team together and to utilise it as a space that you might want to use more effectively for bringing teams together.
Ocê, diolch yn fawr. Mae'r Cwnsler Cyffredinol wedi nodi mewn gohebiaeth gyda ni y byddai'n ddefnyddiol cael sicrwydd ffurfiol gan y comisiwn na fydd yr arian o gronfa gyfunol Cymru yn ymwneud ag unrhyw gynnydd mewn costau ailgodi canolog o ganlyniad i newid blaenoriaethau sy'n tarddu o Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig, hynny yw, bod cronfa gyfunol Cymru ond yn cael ei defnyddio ar gyfer gweithgarwch sy'n deillio o'r cyd-destun Cymreig. Allwch chi gadarnhau na fyddwch chi'n ceisio cyllid ychwanegol gan y Senedd oherwydd newid blaenoriaethau sy'n tarddu o Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig?
Okay, thank you very much. The Counsel General has noted in correspondence to us that it would be helpful to receive the commission's formal assurance that the funding from the Welsh consolidated fund will not lead to any increase in central recharge costs as a result of changing priorities originating from the UK Government, namely that the Welsh consolidated fund would only be used for activity stemming from the Welsh context. Can you confirm that you will not seek additional funding from the Senedd due to changing priorities originating from the UK Government?
This is for you, Shaun.
This one is easy for me. It's a one-word answer: 'yes'.
We like one-word answers. We don't get them often enough, to be honest. There we are.
Can I just follow up? Based on that, with the office move, is the office move funded fully from the Welsh budget, or is it being borne as an apportionment, because, obviously, there'll be people working in the other parts of the UK working out of Cardiff? Is that an apportionment, or are we paying for it all?
Kieran, I would assume it's an apportionment, so I think you might—
Yes, it's an apportionment.
There we are.
Before we move on, obviously, we've been talking about next year's figures, and you've mentioned the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecast of 3.4 per cent. Now, we all know that inflation's running a lot higher than that at this point in time, and I admit that we are talking about budgets for an estimate for a financial year that starts in five months' time, approximately, but we are likely to have higher costs by the time we get there, and it's going to be ambitious to be at 3.4 per cent for the next financial year, so, are you looking, at this point in time, or relooking at your figures and considering whether you think you'll need to put a supplementary request in because of inflation? We all know that interest rates are going up, and they're not going to be coming down quickly, so what's your thinking and positioning at this moment in time in relation to those forecasts?
Shaun, I think you may have answered this partly already in your view of working more closely with this committee, rather than once a year. Over to you.
Kieran may want to come in to give more specific details, but I am certain that the amount that we've asked for for next year is futureproof. It allows for inflation in terms of pay, it allows for inflation in terms of additional utility costs, which we are protected against to some extent because of the leases that we have negotiated. At this stage, I wouldn't envisage having to submit another supplementary estimate, but should that change, my commitment is to keep this committee apprised of that fact. But I am satisfied that rigour has been applied and that that gives us, through effective control and stewardship of the budget—. I don't anticipate asking for more.
Okay. Kieran is nodding there, so I'm sure he agrees with you. Thank you.
I want to move on to have a look at the pilot project, obviously, which has a very interesting impact on us here and the elections we've just had. Joyce.
Good morning, everybody. Yes, I want to examine the pilots. We know that you have engagement with 16 and 17-year-olds and qualifying foreign nationals in the local government elections, and we also know that the National Audit Office issued a memorandum to you on the areas that could be focused on. The commission published its report evaluating the advance voting pilots for the local government elections in Wales in 2022. Could you provide a summary of the pilots and the commission's costs associated with undertaking the evaluation, and whether those pilots were, in your opinion, value for money?
I'm going to hand over to Rhydian on this one, Joyce. Just to say, of course, we were asked by the Welsh Government to provide these pilots, and it will up to the Government and to the Senedd as a whole to determine on value for money, but what I would say is that we've got to be careful not to evaluate simply on numbers, because there were some very interesting and valuable lessons learnt as well from the use of technology, which might have a bearing on some of the reforms that the Senedd will look to do in future elections. So, Rhydian, would you like to enhance?
Yes, thanks, Elan. I think it's firstly important to recognise that the evaluation of the pilots found that they were well run by returning officers, and that's no mean feat considering these were new initiatives and returning officers had all-out elections to run in their areas as well, so they did a really, really good job and we're grateful to them for that.
Much of the focus of the pilots, perhaps unfairly, has been on the fact that the turnout was low, but the option was welcomed by those voters that used it. But, importantly, the technology behind the system worked effectively, and I think this allows us to consider how this type of work in Wales can be developed, moving forward, especially given what we're seeing and what we saw quite recently from Welsh Government in the White Paper in terms of the ambition that there is in electoral reform in Wales.
There'll be several specific areas that need to be addressed if further roll-out of any form of advance voting is considered, and that relates to tech, geography, depending on whether Welsh Government want to roll it out nationally—that's not such an issue, but if they want to develop on the numbers, then it would be interesting to see how some, maybe, larger rural locations were to deal with advance voting—and public information as well. And any changes would clearly need to bear in mind that, very importantly, they deliver a benefit to the voters themselves, that the security and integrity of the electoral system is maintained and, importantly, that they can be realistically delivered by electoral administrators, and that means additional resource. But we, obviously, stand ready to support this area of work, which, again, links in with the wider reform programme that we've seen highlighted by the Welsh Government.
And just to go back—and Elan's made the point in terms of cost—the costs that we've seen initially, which were around, I think, £55,000 for the pilots, those costs can't be taken as a clear indication of any likely future roll-out of advance voting. Work has been undertaken already, and costs incurred this year as part of that type of programme of work may not need to be replicated in future years, especially with regard to the technology. But we've clearly recommended, as part of the report to Welsh Government, that cost-benefit assessments would need to be carried out to inform their future plans.
Thank you. You're right, there has been a focus on the low turnout, as one in five of the 16 to 17-year-olds took that opportunity. So, maybe you've taken some learning from that, and we would be interested to know what that is and how you're going to use that, moving forward.
Yes, I think we've recommended—you've seen from our report—that we'd want to see further education and engagement to support younger voters, and I think that the feedback that we've received from young voters themselves, the young people themselves, and partners has shown that there's a lack of understanding as to how to participate in the democratic process. The knowledge that tends to exist relies, perhaps, on informal education at home—what they pick up themselves, talking to friends and talking to family, rather than any kind of consistent school-based learning.
You'll know that the commission has developed education materials to help young people try to understand how to get involved in our democracy and to support educators to teach political literacy, and those materials were updated ahead of this year's election and we'll continue to expand on them. But, as we're moving into a non-election period now and there's the new Curriculum for Wales launching, I think there's an opportunity for this work to be further highlighted and developed, and for democratic awareness to be woven consistently through a young person's education, rather than, as I mentioned earlier, it being seen as something that's just done in the six weeks or two months prior to an election.
As we've said previously, any attempt to engage with young people has to be informed by young people. So, we'll look to continue to work closely with our youth partner in Wales, Democracy Box, to ensure that that voice is embedded into all of our learning work. We'll establish new panels as well in the next financial year, as well as individual days and weeks, like Welcome to Your Vote Week, which happens every year, and more information on that will follow for next year's week, which will be in January/February—those types of events as well—to try to build this type of momentum and to talk about these things month in, month out.
There was also, of course, another group of newly qualified people, and those were the foreign nationals who qualified to vote for the first time in a local election. How did you engage with those groups and how did you work with the stakeholders in those areas so that those people were aware?
I think the efforts to engage with that group on a national scale have been difficult due to the challenge of identifying those specific electors, as compared to 16 and 17-year-olds, for example, where we know where we can find them. Identifying foreign nationals who are resident in Wales has been a little bit more challenging. So, we've focused on supporting local authorities across Wales, which have done some really, really good work to engage with foreign nationals at a local level, as well as specific partner groups that know where these groups are and how to reach them, and, also, the best way in which to engage with them. So, as a result of the work with local authorities, we've held various focus groups with representatives of this group, as well as developing resources. But, I think it's fair to say it has been a greater challenge to reach them, as I said, as compared to 16 and 17-year-olds. We want to continue our work with local authorities and with the key partner groups in Wales to ensure that we're getting to the people that we need to get to and that we're presenting the resource in the best possible way.
I would add that we did provide resources in various languages as well, didn't we? We provided frequently asked questions, for example, in a number of foreign languages, in the hope of reaching this somewhat hard-to-reach group.
Sorry, I nearly cut you off again—I know I did it and I apologise. That's the trouble with remote, isn't it? You're not sure when people have finished.
The final question from me is that there's an awful lot of learning that would have come from that engagement. Going forward, when we change the voting system—the way that people actually are going to use their vote—it will be critical that they understand a new system, otherwise it's going to be an almighty mess and chaos. So, I'm assuming that some of that learning and that engagement has been put forward in your budget and your ways of thinking, going forward.
I think I can assure you, Joyce, on behalf of the commission as a whole—the board of the commission, not just the Wales work—that especially engaging young people to actually understand how to vote is a real priority. I think, in Wales, looking at what has traditionally been perhaps work in sixth forms or further eds, mock debates, et cetera, we've got to start much earlier now. We've probably got to start at 13, 14, and we've also, in my opinion, got to be far more practical—what do you have to do to vote? You have to register for a start, and that in itself is something that people don't understand, and they can turn up on election day thinking that they can walk in and vote without being on the register, for example. So, very, very practical things that we hope to discuss, possibly with the education ministry of Welsh Government, to see that this is embedded. As Rhydian has said, there is an opportunity with the new curriculum, but we've got to make certain that it's an opportunity that embraces the practical as well as the more theoretic aspects of politics.
Could I add to the last question from Joyce? You've partly answered it, Elan—it's not just how to vote, but it's also encouraging people to understand why to vote in a democratic system as well. From what I gather from Rhydian's response as well, your budget does include consideration of the ongoing work. Just because there's no election in 2023-24 doesn't mean we stop looking at the education programme to encourage people to understand the role of democracy and what their role is in that. So, just to confirm, Rhydian, you are saying that that's included in your budget.
Absolutely, yes. There are several key projects that we're looking at in the next financial year. I've mentioned already we want to establish a youth voice network in Wales, we want to develop our teacher training materials, and we want to develop all the resources themselves, generally. But that is very much, as I mentioned, where we've got to try and move away from thinking about what young people want to hear just in the run-up to an election. I'm talking about mainstreaming it and linking it to what's happening with the Welsh curriculum as well. So, we're in the process of having one-to-one meetings, for example, at the moment with individual chief executives at the 22 local authorities in Wales, and working with them to get to young people and, indeed, to foreign nationals in their local authority areas, and making that part of a permanent programme of work.
As I say, for the next two years we might not know which way the vote will be applied in 2026, but we do know there will be a vote, and there will be 16 and 17-year-olds entitled to that vote, and there'll be foreign nationals entitled to that vote.
Okay, thank you. We'll move on to your corporate plan, and I'll ask Janet to ask a question on the corporate plan.
Yep. Oh, sorry—here we go. How does the commission's corporate plan—? How do you feel it is genuinely—? Oh, and may I just apologise for being late? I did have some IT issues, and I hadn't had the joining link, so that took a little time, sorry.
So, how would you genuinely feel that the corporate plan, you know, actually is influencing your activities in Wales, and also—sorry, I'm doing this electronically—whether the commission has implemented the committee's recommendations and reviewed the performance measures in the plan to ensure they're the most appropriate for the commission's activities in Wales?
I think this might be where you come in, Shaun, as accounting officer.
So, the first answer to the question, I think, is the easiest: that actually the corporate plan for Wales has incorporated recommendations from this committee. The two issues are connected, of course, and I believe that the budget accurately reflects our planned activity. I think you could break it down into three key areas, and it's, again, repeating some of the things that Rhydian and Elan have said, Welsh electoral reform, education work, alongside providing guidance and support to the wider electoral community.
Now, when you look at the corporate plan, there are key performance indicators that have been set, which show a level of stretch and ambition but that we believe are realistic targets that we should aim for. And then, flowing from that, you also have a set of targets and measures that refer to the wider electoral community, and, as we know, it is a dynamic system. I think there are some real benefits within Wales, and the focus of looking across the whole electoral system because of the work that the Wales electoral co-ordination board does, and some of the recommendations that are set out within the White Paper for the establishment of a management board across Wales.
And whilst we are not directly responsible for those wider system measures, I think we have got a really strong position as a convener, and an ability to expand our sphere of influence and bring people together to drive the improvements that we're seeking for the right outcomes for the voters, for campaigners, for the citizens and to, overall, lead to an improvement in the overall democratic process and literacy across Wales. But, given that this is year 1, I am more than happy to continue to work with the committee, and if we think that these measures can be refined in any way, then that is something that I'm very much open to.
Thank you, and how do you think the commission's performance measures have actually influenced the funding that you have sought for 2023-24?
There's a phrase that I use, which is—[Inaudible.]—machine, which is looking at making sure that you get the right targets and measures to drive the right behaviours and outcomes. And I believe we have got the right measures that actually drive the outcomes, and will give us an indication of whether or not we are being successful in the achievement of those aims.
And you believe that the commission has implemented the committee's recommendation on reviewing the performance measures in the corporate plan to ensure that they are the most appropriate, as you say now, for the commission’s activities in Wales. How do these diverge from the UK-wide performance measures?
So, there are many similarities, but, of course, Wales is on a different reform trajectory, and I want to ensure that we support that reform agenda. And there will be issues that are specific to Wales, and the team are committed to ensuring that we address the needs of Wales.
Thank you, and my final question: is the commission going to update the committee on a regular basis on its progress against its own performance measures?
So, I am happy to support and to provide information to the committee as regularly as it wants and it would like. And I'm very keen to have an open, transparent relationship and one that actually encourages and welcomes scrutiny at every level throughout the year. So, I suppose—. I'm not one to throw the question back, but I will do whatever you feel and consider to be proportionate.
That's fair enough. I'm sure that as a committee we'll discuss this, because I think, certainly, aside from being a member of this committee, I know as a Member of the Senedd that there's always been this almost a mystery about the Electoral Commission and what have you. So, especially being a member of this committee under the chairmanship of my colleague David Rees MS, I'm really keen to ensure that we can really open it up, so that not just Members of the Senedd, but members of the public, my constituents and people across Wales know exactly what the Electoral Commission is about—what it does, what it doesn't do, what it might do going forwards. So, thank you.
You highlighted there in your answer to Janet, Shaun, the fact that we are going through probably a significant change in Senedd reform, and therefore unique and specific to Wales. But, as a corporation—and, in a sense, as a body—are you looking at lessons learnt elsewhere in the UK that you can apply to Wales, so that you're looking to ensure that best practice is being applied whenever possible?
Yes, and that's a straightforward answer from me. I see us being one commission, and ultimately, it's to improve the overall democratic process, and anything that we can do to share experiences from Scotland, from the UK, from Wales. And I think that even just looking at the post-election reports that were produced following the polls, there's a rich source of information contained within those.
Thank you. And thank you for your answers today. As you've already highlighted, I think there's a lot of work still to be done in the years ahead, as the reform programme is moving forward. There's an important role we all have to play in encouraging people to take part in our democracy and letting them understand how they can do that. So, I look forward to our meetings that are ahead of us, because I think the next few years will be challenging for everyone. So, thank you very much for your time, thank you for attending today and answering our questions. You will receive a copy of the transcript as soon as possible to ensure that any factual inaccuracies are corrected as soon as possible. And I remind Members that we'll lay our report by 22 November, so you should be aware of our conclusions by that stage. So, thank you for your time.
Diolch yn fawr.
Diolch yn fawr.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
And I move on to item 3, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of this meeting. Are Members content to agree to that motion? I see they are. Therefore, we'll now move to private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:07.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:07.