Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau Y Bumed Senedd

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee - Fifth Senedd


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jayne Bryant
Jenny Rathbone
John Griffiths Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Leanne Wood
Mark Isherwood

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Daniel Hurford Pennaeth Polisi, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Head of Policy, Welsh Local Government Association
Debbie Wilcox Arweinydd Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru ac Arweinydd Cyngor Dinas Casnewydd
Welsh Local Government Association Leader and Leader of Newport City Council
Jessica Blair Cyfarwyddwr, Cymdeithas Diwygio Etholiadol Cymru
Director, Electoral Reform Society Cymru
Paul Egan Dirprwy Brif Weithredwr, Un Llais Cymru
Deputy Chief Executive, One Voice Wales
Siân Williams Pennaeth y Gwasanaethau Democrataidd, Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Conwy
Head of Democratic Services, Conwy County Borough Council

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Osian Bowyer Ymchwilydd

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.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:27.

The meeting began at 09:27.

1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Okay. May I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We've received apologies from Siân Gwenllian, Gareth Bennett and Jack Sargeant. 

2. Ymchwiliad i Amrywiaeth ym Maes Llywodraeth Leol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 1
2. Inquiry into Diversity in Local Government: Evidence Session 1

Item 2 on our agenda today is our inquiry into diversity in local government and our first evidence session. And I am very pleased to welcome Councillor Debbie Wilcox, Welsh Local Government Association leader, and leader of Newport City Council, Daniel Hurford, head of policy, Welsh Local Government Association, Siân Williams, head of democratic services, Conwy County Borough Council, and Paul Egan, deputy chief executive of One Voice Wales.

If it's okay with you, we'll move straight into questions. The first question then is from me, and that is: how could technology be utilised to help increase participation from a more diverse group of people?

Thank you, Chair. I'll begin. I can't let the opportunity go by, though, without noting that today is the hundredth anniversary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, where women could stand as Members of Parliament. There's been a lot covering that on the radio this morning as I sat in the traffic. Saying that, only 28 per cent of Welsh MPs are women in the House of Commons. So, diversity is an issue that affects all levels of Government, but, of course, local government has particular challenges. So, we very much welcome being here and welcome being at this inquiry. 

Technology—well, technology can help participation in a number of ways: through encouragement, through raising awareness. For example, the increasing use of social media by councillors and councils should lead to more people being aware of who we are, what we do, and engaging in council matters. There are, of course, downsides to social media. There's probably not a politician in this room that hasn't seen that downside, and if you're a woman politician, then there are significant extra downsides to that. Research is widely showing now that it is becoming an increasingly crowded and antagonistic space. But we have to look at it positively, and we have to treat it as a way—with online engagement and consultation, webcasting of council meetings. I know, Chair, that you regularly watch me on board in Newport council, as I sail the ship—


—every couple of months. And what a good job I do as well. But it's about a platform. So, we are engaged, and it's not hidden behind townhall doors.

And, of course, the technology is supporting councillors. Two years after asking, and insisting, I've finally got my iPad, and it is a boon, because, as we move towards a paperless council, as well as saving trees, it saves a great deal of time, and we have our engagement and our communication in front of us. So, paperless meetings, e-training, webinars, remote attendance.

We have noted previously that the remote attendance provisions in the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 are too prescriptive, and they will be relaxed, and we look forward to that in the forthcoming Bill.

Just to expand on that a little, perhaps, Debbie, in what way are those restrictions limiting? Daniel.

If I can come in, I think, on the face of the Measure, there's quite a lot of detail about how remote attendance should be carried out, so, in terms of who should be seen, when they should be seen, who can see who—it's just the dynamics around managing and meeting remotely. So, I think the intention was very positive, in that it allowed members, potentially, to dive into a meeting from home, and potentially use Skype. Unfortunately, Skype wouldn't be allowed through the law as it stands. We've had discussions with the Welsh Government, and they're likely to relax it. So, a number of authorities do use Skype for informal meetings—if members are unable to get in to the council chamber, they can just use Skype and have a conversation with officers or colleagues, and so on. But, in terms of the formal meetings, the Measure is quite strict in terms of how that can be run. So, hopefully, we should get a more relaxed environment that will allow meetings to be held remotely, particularly in areas like Powys—obviously, large geographical areas, rural areas. So, potentially, you could have different members in different parts of the county, all participating in the same meeting.

And that could apply to formal committee meetings, for example.

Okay, thanks very much for that. Perhaps if we move on, I know Jenny Rathbone has a question.

Yes. I'm particularly interested in what you think about job sharing as a potential way of accommodating people who have family responsibilities, or jobs where there is restricted time off. What do you think of this proposal that's in the local government reform Bill?

Well, in terms of the WLGA, we support job sharing for cabinet members. For example, our equalities spokesperson, Councillor Mary Sherwood, currently shares her cabinet role in Swansea, and, technically then, job shares her WLGA spokesperson role on equalities, welfare and anti-poverty with Councillor Susan Elsmore from Cardiff. There's a slight anomaly in the legislation, as it currently stands, in terms of the size of cabinets, the number of senior salaries payable, but you have confirmed that this will be addressed in the forthcoming Bill. Job sharing is unlikely to have a significant impact on prospective councillors. Aspiring to be a cabinet member may not be on many people's minds at the time of election. But it would have a positive impact on councillors who might be prospective cabinet members, because the flexibility may allow them to consider a role, and, actually, it would have a positive impression, generally, on councils, and it would help us towards our drive to be equal opportunity organisations.

Just leaving the cabinet role on one side, backbench members—particularly, say, somebody with protected characteristics, whose health might not permit them to do a full-time job.

I think that's an area for development, but it's certainly something that would pose perhaps more difficulty than the examples that I've given.

In terms of being a councillor, a normal, front-line community councillor—a community-facing councillor—it's not really been one that's been looked at extensively. Certainly, it's usually around senior roles that are usually more time intensive. But the role of counsellor is flexible. There are a lot of demands on time, as I'm sure you all know, but it is fairly flexible in terms of how an individual can engage with the authority and also engage with the community. In multi-member wards, for example, there's technically, certainly within the same party, job sharing in terms of how casework is managed, particularly if a member is away on holiday or is ill or can't participate through work for a particular reason. So, with our multi-member wards, job sharing does not, officially, but effectively work.


Yes, I think Daniel's point is very apposite and, as he was talking, I was just thinking about members in my own group, where that kind of equitable sharing goes on on an informal basis. So, I've got a member who's about to go in for a hip replacement. So, the other guy will pick up her stuff, so it moves in an informal—. Of course, it's more testing when it's multi-party-member wards, but it can be done.

But if two individuals were stood together, asking the electorate to support them as job shares, what would be the disadvantage of that? As long as the electorate goes along with it and it's clear that X and Y are going to share this role, if it were endorsed by the electorate, what's not to like?

Well, then I think, you know, could that act at all levels of governance—job-share AMs and job-share MPs? I'm very keen on all levels of government being treated equally in every aspect.

I haven't got a comment to make on that for the community and town council sector, but I did want to make a comment in relation to the first question. Is it okay to do that?

One Voice Wales represent the councils in our membership in Wales. We have about 83 per cent of the 735 councils and there are 8,000-plus councils in Wales. So, we are a different kind of being, through the Welsh Local Government Association. What we have is a range of councils in Wales that either work at a very high level, covering a wide range of functions for the area, or some that do very little. The recent local council review panel has suggested, in their recommendations, that the sector that we represent should be responsible for the majority of place-based services. If that was ever carried and taken forward, we're going to become quite an important part of the governance structure in Wales, even though I think we probably are already. But that would grow in prominence.

So, the first question was about technology. We've got a few comments to make there. One is that some of the issues at the moment are that, without technology—that is preventing people from standing for election in the first place. Most of the community councillors and town councillors who put their names forward are, in the main, independent. There are political groupings in south Wales, but they're often independent, and they don't get time off from work, and many lead busy lives. What we don't necessarily want in the sector is a proliferation of people of retirement age who've got the time and who trouble to take part in one particular thing that is a bugbear. That is, if you want to stand for election, you have to apply and you have to make an appointment to see somebody from the democratic services team in the county or county borough council and give up your time for that appointment. That is proving difficult for many professional people who actually want to be councillors. So, what they do is they avoid that and then they apply for co-option when a vacancy arises. So, that's one thing—we believe there should be some improvements in technology to enable someone to stand for election and be able to have their form checked by electronic means. That would remove that obstacle.

The second one is that a number of councils in Wales have said, 'We've got some members who can't make it sometimes because they're working away, so can they take part in the meetings via Skype?' The answer is that that facility does not apply to community and town councils at the moment. My understanding is that it is discretionary in unitary authorities, so that may be something that could be considered in ongoing legislation. 

The other thing, I think, to encourage councillors to get involved in our sector is to identify a clearer identity and purpose of what it is to be a community councillor. That's probably lacking at the moment, so that's something that perhaps could be looked at.

Okay, Paul, thanks very much for that.

In terms of employers, obviously, for somebody thinking of standing for council, or, indeed, somebody who is a councillor and they're also working in paid employment elsewhere, what would be your main points in terms of what needs to change? Because, obviously, it's important that employers are sympathetic and encouraging and supportive, and there's necessary flexibility there. What would be your main points in terms of what we need to see happening there?


I'll pick up on that. Obviously, as you alluded to, Chair, it's a fundamental role for employers to allow members of staff to become councillors. Some councillors are full-time councillors or they are retired, but the vast majority of councillors are part time or have some part-time employment. I'm just looking at the statistics. The Welsh Government survey of councillors found that 35 per cent of councillors were in full-time employment, 14 per cent were part time, and 16 per cent were self-employed. But, for the majority of councillors who stood down at the last elections—and we undertook interviews with those members about their experiences of being a councillor—very few people mentioned that their employers were a hindrance to their role as a councillor. Most of the employers were actually really supportive of them in their role. Members of staff are permitted to undertake reasonable time off work to do activities such as being a councillor, but employers can refuse that request if it becomes onerous. A significant number of councillors are having to juggle their employed role and their council role, and sometimes they have to take time off work and sometimes they have to work very flexibly. But, generally, in the main, the feedback we have is that employers are supportive.

But, as you all, I'm sure, know, the vast majority of employers and businesses in Wales are SMEs. So, to allow a member of staff—an integral part of that organisation—to go as a councillor is quite challenging. In terms of the law, it's difficult to say whether you can force businesses to allow members of staff to become councillors, but I think we just need to support businesses where we can and encourage them about the benefits of it. Where their members of staff become councillors, it's incredibly good in terms of personal development, professional development potentially, and there's a clear demonstration of businesses' corporate social responsibility and commitment to the community.

And of course, if you work in the public services, as I did—I was a teacher for many years, I worked in the people's republic of RCT with comrade Morgan, and then I did my politicking at home in Newport. Something that came up during the last iteration of local government reform—sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned that phrase, but I did—was talking about being able to work for the same authority. We lobbied strongly against that. In my experience of being a councillor for 10 years and working as a teacher at the same time, it would have been highly inappropriate to be a councillor in that authority that you work for. It would actually have precluded you taking up cabinet positions. It's inappropriate. It's highly appropriate to be in another council area, as I did, but not to work and be a councillor for the same council. There are too many conflicts of interest and you'd end up not being able to be in any meeting at all, really. But, within that, the public service ethos that prevails, and the time off that is allowed within reason is extremely valuable. It was an extremely valuable experience to be able to work full time and take part in civic life. It really is great.

Flexible working is now widespread across many employers, because of a recognition that the best way of retaining good staff is to accommodate their personal balancing act. Yet, in some of the preliminary work we've done in taking evidence from stakeholders, I came across a particular case of somebody working in the public sector where the councillor was simply not being allowed to work flexibly. They recognised that they still needed to fulfil their contractual obligations, but they just were not being allowed to come in earlier or work later. I just wondered what negotiations the WLGA or a local authority might have with particular employers to get them to see sense. 

It was particularly difficult as a teacher to work flexibly, because you can't work flexibly.

The bell rings and you've got to be there, and the timetable is as it is, and your holidays are when they are. So, flexibility is a known issue within that aspect and that's a huge part of the public service, of course—the teaching workforce. I can't understand why there would be that inflexibility, because if you have an office-based job in the public service, then—. 


On the other hand, Debbie, we took evidence in our maternity inquiry about why it is that teachers can't job share when they've got small children. We had a lot of evidence from individuals who said, 'Well, my child's in a class where there's a job share and it works completely fine'. But there is huge resistance from headteachers to accommodate good members of staff who have particular responsibilities. 

And I don't know why, because it is absolutely an obvious way. So, you keep the experience, that flexibility, because teaching is a very inflexible job. I could never have a Friday off to go away for a long weekend. Do you know what I mean? So, you can't do that, but, within that, yes, it's two for the price of one really if you get a good job share that works. But headteachers are inflexible on a range of items, Jenny, not just job sharing. 

I think it's a key point, because my previous answer talked about business more, but actually I think about 46 per cent of councillors who are employed are employed in the public sector. So, I think it's important that public sector organisations should have good equal opportunities policies but also policies that encourage members of staff to volunteer, become councillors—


—magistrates. So, I think there's something certainly we need to do, but also those Cabinet Secretaries or Welsh Ministers that sponsor public bodies or are responsible for those public bodies certainly in the run-up to the next election or now if there are issues.

But one of the issues that we're very much addressing is encouraging candidates for the next election, and so part of our campaign will be about engaging with public sector employees in particular to just encourage and promote the fact that their staff should consider standing for election, both as personal professional development but also as a contribution to their communities as well. It's concerning that there are individuals perhaps who do find pressure from their public sector employers that aren't releasing them for council duties. 

And we often find, with those councillors that aren't employed in the public sector, the reasonable time off that they're allowed is to attend the full council meetings. So, then, if you imagine all the other committee meetings that they have to attend, it's really difficult. They have to prioritise, together with their training programmes, and then if their attendance isn't 100 per cent, they do get criticised by the public for not being there 100 per cent of the time. So, it is a really, really difficult balancing act for the councillors. 

And I think it puts them in an invidious position, because I certainly took evidence from people who said they were using their annual leave in work in order to attend committee meetings, and that they hadn't had an actual day's holiday, in the real sense of the word, for several years.  

And then that again comes back to the timing of our meetings—making it suitable and accessible to all types of councillors, whether they're employed or not. 

Thank you, Chair. Just on that point really, the work, Daniel, that you've just mentioned about looking for new councillors in the future—new people to stand for election—are you also looking to perhaps tie into that maybe being a mentor, or suggesting that there might be an opportunity to shadow councillors who are doing their work at the moment, if you're having that programme to encourage more councillors to stand? 

We have—and Siân will be able to talk about it—mentoring programmes already within councils. So, new councillors coming through can be mentored by serving councillors, but also mentoring will be a key part of our programme ahead of the 2022 elections, and you'll be aware of the diversity in democracy campaign, which the Welsh Government led but we were core partners of. Mentoring was a key element of that, and there were other programmes. So, the Women's Equality Network, at the moment, are doing a mentoring programme for women to come into public life. The risk around mentoring programmes per se is they're extremely resource intensive usually—you need somebody to co-ordinate the activity, you need mentors who are committed to it and mentees who are engaged. It is an extremely valuable experience for mentees to participate in, but the transition rate from mentees into candidates and standing isn't always what perhaps we'd like it to be—so, probably around mentor candidates rather than potential candidates in the future. 

Would there be an opportunity like the shadowing? If you're going to ask people, or go into an organisation or a business or whatever and you're saying, 'We would like people to stand', perhaps there's one day, if you're working with those businesses—one day, perhaps you could have the opportunity to shadow a councillor so that you have a better understanding of what that role will entail, because sometimes I think that's the problem with people standing. 


Yes. We're developing our ideas because it's a—

It might put them off, of course. [Laughter.]

That is always the risk, yes. But Debbie alluded to it earlier—we've got webcasting now so people can actually look at what councils are doing, certainly the formal aspects of the councillor role. But also, yes, encouraging shadowing, just one-to-one discussions with certain councillors or even officers about what the role entails, some of the issues, some of the benefits of it—and then, if they really are interested, align them with a mentor. But, as I say, if we put out a blanket mentoring programme—. The conversion rate from mentees into actual candidates, into actual councillors, certainly from the diversity in democracy campaign, was a little disappointing.   

Only four of them got through to be a candidate. 

I think, as far as our sector is concerned, we think that community and town councils could be the place where the target should be, because that is the training ground for councillors who may want to become county borough councillors and maybe Assembly Members as well. I've personally been a clerk for 35 years and, in the council that I work on, I've seen councillors come and go but I've also seen councillors move on to becoming county borough councillors. There are often dual-hatted members, as at present, on these councils, and they can act as a mentor to those that may be ambitious to move up to the next level of local government. So, I think that our sector could be a target area for trying to get people in, as part of their, if you like, prior training.  

Yes. Okay, Paul. Thanks very much. Yes, I think that that's a strong point, isn't it? Could I just ask about childcare? Do any local authorities in Wales provide childcare facilities for councillors and staff? 

Siân, do you want to pick this up?

Yes. Not that we know of, not for councillors or—. I'm not sure that any do provide crèche facilities for staff, actually, either. Councillors can claim reimbursement of costs of care and that's up to a maximum of £403 a month. So, it is there for councillors to claim, but there are major challenges with this, as a lot of them that are entitled to claim tend not to because of public or peer pressure. That's something that we have to get across—you know, that you're entitled to it. It's there to help you do your role, but there is this fear and public pressure that puts people off. 

Yes. And is it a considerable barrier, childcare, to people coming forward to serve as councillors and remaining as councillors, do you think? 

It's a difficult one really, isn't it, because if you speak to the councillors—those that do have childcare responsibilities—again it comes down to timing of meetings. There'll be a mix of responses. Some will prefer daytime meetings because they find it easier to attend if their child is of school age, but then again, if they're outside of school age—so, younger—they prefer them in the evening because it may be that a partner is there on hand to take over childcare responsibilities. So, yes, it's a difficult one to judge. 

Yes. Okay. We need to move on. We haven't got a great deal of time, as ever. So, Jenny Rathbone. 

As the WLGA paper notes, in 92 seats across the unitary authorities, they were uncontested in 2017. I suppose that's fine as long as there was at least one candidate, but it's—. Do we—? What do you think about the information that the public has to hand about the important role of serving the community? 

I think the information is there. There seems to be difficulty in some people finding it and accessing it. But I think it comes down to that people generally don't understand government and politics and which level of government is responsible for what. Most councils do have a 'Be a councillor' page on their website, lots of information about the role of councillor—some local authorities have videos up there to explain a bit more detail. WLGA produce a candidates guide, which is very clear and summarises the roles and responsibilities of a councillor. So, it is there, and, if you are interested in standing, you can find it. Possibly, if you're standing as a party candidate, then people point you in the right direction. For the independent candidates, then it would probably be reliant on them coming to someone like me and saying, 'What's the role?' and me helping them. The issue is encouraging people to stand in the first place, and, if they haven't got that easy access to the information, they aren't aware of the downsides or the—. I think, because they don't access the information easily, they're probably more aware of the downsides rather than the benefits of being a councillor.


It's about general awareness of what councils and councillors do—a general awareness about what the Assembly does, what Parliament does. Because, time and time again, public opinion surveys talk about that a sizeable proportion of the Welsh public still think that Westminster deliver the health service, even though we've been delivering it here since 1999. And, similarly, people aren't sure who delivers local services. It was shown in the committee survey of the public, where as many people think AMs and MPs deliver local services as people think councils do.

Education, obviously, is a key here. I would strongly advocate a clear pathway for learning in our schools and particularly as we're looking to—you know, there's a move towards voting at 16. Our young people really do want to know about politics and political structures, and I think it could encompass that. Education is a key here and I think young people would help us, certainly, to spread the word, as they have with recycling. Because, when we want to deal with recycling in Newport, we make sure that we put it through our schools, because those young people ensure that their families then follow the code.

So, education, but, you know, there's a huge misunderstanding. People tell me often in letters and e-mails, 'If I don't get an answer from you, I'm going to complain to Jayne Bryant.' Well, you know, I say, 'Well, no, try John Griffiths—he's always a bit nicer.' [Laughter.] But people think there's a hierarchical thing, don't they? And it's not that at all.

Okay, so what evidence is there, if any, that the work that's been done—on personal, social, health and economic education lessons, on schools councils, eco-committees in schools, the youth parliament—that that is having a positive impact on people, as they get older, wanting to get engaged?

I think it's a work in progress, Jenny, and I think, as with a lot of aspects, some schools are doing very well and some schools less well. So, what we need is to pick up on good practice, where that's happening well.

I'll be as quick as I can on that one. We did ask the Welsh Government to help fund a DVD on the work of a community and town councillor some years ago. We didn't get the money and we're not showered in money ourselves, so we haven't moved on it. But I think something pictorial, showing what can be achieved by our sector, what people are involved at the moment, and showing different aspects of the diversity within our sector, would be a good start.

I think, secondly, there are some councils who go into schools themselves to talk to them about becoming a town or a community councillor. A good example there is down at Llanelli Town Council. I think if there was a DVD to play, we could actively encourage our councils to try and go into schools and use that as a means of encouraging young people to become involved. 

And the other point, from my own personal experience, is that the community councils have the power under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 to appoint youth representatives, but there's a process that needs to be followed, which is gaining the active support of the schools within your area. I'm not absolutely certain that schools are giving that the priority that they might and possibly there needs to be some encouragement there. There are some good examples of youth councils operating in Wales, at Penarth and Pontardawe, but there should be more and more of them happening in Wales.

Newport's got a good youth council.

Yes, Newport has. There we are. So, I think there should be some encouragement from Welsh Government to get schools actively involved in this. And, for our part, if there was something we could have, a tangible DVD or something, where we can get our councils to go out into schools themselves, then we would actively encourage that.

Yes, okay. Well, we've got all the school councils to engage with, haven't we? And there will be a youth parliament in Wales soon as well. So, there are opportunities there. Okay, we must—

It'll have to be very brief, Leanne, because we're up against the clock, I'm afraid, but go on.


It will be brief. You said 'encouragement'—why not legislation?

That's for you to decide. We wouldn't oppose that, no.

It's not going to happen without it, is it, really?

No, probably not. I think you're right.

Just give us the money. If you put in something new, give us the money to carry it out.

No, but, you know—. Legislation's great, but we never have the money to go with it, so—

No, but, if you're saying that this is important, encouragement is not doing the trick, is it? People still—. We still have a third of people believing that the NHS is not devolved, so it's not working. So, therefore, if we want to change this, the only way to do it is through legislation. Is that a fair point?

It's not an unfair point, no.

So, moving on, once the councillors have been elected, obviously they receive some form of training. How robust is it in terms of is good practice consistent across all local authorities?

Yes, it is. It's a very robust training programme. So, after the election, there's an induction programme, which is very intense to start with and probably lasts for the first 12 months. WLGA provide strategic support and bring together the chairs and the heads of democratic services, and we plan together development and training support for all of the councillors. At the end of the day, training and development are the local authorities' responsibility, but the WLGA work with us to develop role descriptions, competency frameworks, an induction curriculum, including some mandatory elements, and then an ongoing training and developing programme. 

So, each local authority develops an annual programme for their particular local authority. We do it in-house, or we do commission external trainers to come in, depending on what the topic is. WLGA also provide training to councils, such as scrutiny and chairing skills. Then, with Academi Wales, they also deliver a well-regarded leadership academy programme. Activities are dependent on the capacity and resources available in councils. Needless to say, resources are getting tighter every year, but within Conwy we still have a budget to carry out that training. The traditional issue is that, despite the training and support offered, some councillors do struggle to commit the time to the training programme when it's on top of everything else that they have to do, and some are just not interested in the training. But, in answer to the question, 'Is there is a training programme there?', then, yes, there is, yes.

Okay, fine. Having been a councillor myself, I understand that the shift once you become elected is pretty substantive. But, in the stakeholder event that I chaired, I was (a) struck by the level of commitment by all of the people who attended, but I was also struck by the failure to put some boundaries around the role, which I found quite astonishing, in terms of answering the phone at 7 o'clock in the morning, having people come to the house on particular issues. I just felt that burnout was not very far off, if you behave like that. So, I just want to probe a little bit further about this charter for member support and development. There are some strategies that all councillors need to use, it seems to me, to enable them to continue to function effectively. 

The charter is a WLGA charter that provides a framework. Siân's articulated how that rolls out in authorities. It's a benchmark for not just member development and training but support for councillors as well. And one of—. Siân mentioned the network of heads of democratic services and chairs of democratic services. We met last week, and one of the issues being discussed was mental health support for members, because—you've alluded to it—it's a very stressful role, a demanding role, so members do suffer from stress and other mental health issues, and some may have conditions prior to standing as well. 

It's difficult to put those boundaries—I think that's the word you described—around the role of councillor, because councillors—Debbie will confirm this—you live in the communities, you walk the streets, you shop in the shops; people do stop you every time of the day and people do expect you to answer your phone at midnight if they've got an issue in terms of housing. Christmas Day is not a holiday for most councillors, you know. So, unfortunately—. That goes with the territory, unfortunately. It's difficult, particularly—we talk about social media. People put something on social media and they expect an instantaneous response, whatever time of the day, unfortunately. So, it's a fast-moving world now, and, unfortunately, public expectations are extremely challenging for members, and the same for AMs.


Well, I'd like to kick back on that, because when I was a councillor, members were offered a dedicated phone for their council activities. So, they could have it on answering machine; they didn't have to answer it on Christmas Day—most definitely not. With mobile phones, you can switch them to silent. You don't have to be available, and you certainly shouldn't be available on Christmas Day.

Yes, and then they put on social media, 'Tried to call Councillor X, can't—.' Do you know what I mean, Jenny? We do issue—. All councillors have the appropriate equipment. Even though it took them two years to give me this, you do get the appropriate equipment eventually. All councillors will have mobile phones and laptops and access, but that's—. It doesn't stop the general public expecting. If my phone rings at 10:30 on a Sunday night, which it does, I don't answer it.

I used to, but I don't, because—. It will have to wait until Monday morning. Addresses are another thing—that's an issue. We've always had to make our addresses public, whereas AMs and MPs don't. But certainly, in recent years, with increasing attacks upon—. Two members of my group have had their cars burnt down outside their houses—drugs-related issues, where they, as members of the community, have stood up for it. I've had my car attacked on my drive, because people know where we live and people know where we are. We are very, very locally focused, because that's the nature of the role, but with increasing problems in society now, we have to address that fact that councillors—although we can have a phone number, there shouldn't be an availability. I have given the option to the members of Newport whether they put their addresses on the website or not, because we can all be contacted through the contact centre. But it's a growing awareness of how society is changing out there, and that wouldn't have happened 20 years ago—people having their cars burnt down—but it happens now.

From what you're describing, I can't understand why anybody would want to go into politics, to be honest with you.

Yes, indeed, but good people have got to do it, Leanne.

I know, but I've been involved in, for many years, trying to persuade under-represented groups to stand for election, as many of us in this room have, and one of the things that I come up against as a barrier the most is attacks on social media and general—what you've just described, basically. And people say to me, 'Why should I put myself through that?' I mean, I get quite a lot of grief on social media, and people say, 'I see what you have to put up with; why should I have to put up with that?' So, I think there's a general anti-politician feeling and anti-democracy, in a way, and that's come with the rise in populism and the far right, and it's a wider problem than, I think, just focused on local government. But I'd just like to know from you, really, what you think can be done to change some of these negative public attitudes towards politicians.

Well, I just think—. You mentioned populism. So, when you get the leader of the free world acting in the way that he does on social media, what hope is there for us? I can give you the perfunctory answer, which is obviously that the WLGA have provided guides for councillors that can be used for candidates as well, we've got a training and briefing session. The guides have been very well received. So, we've got a basic guide about social media, covering the benefits, the pitfalls and the law, but it's this online abuse, and we've produced some supplementary guidance on that. So, we've talked about the basics of blocking, muting, and so on and so forth, but I've no answers for you here, sitting here. I think it's all our problem, and I genuinely think the law has to catch up with what's happening out there in the social media realm. I think the law's lagging behind.

So, you don't think enough is being done at present, either within local councils or within the social media companies themselves, or the police, or—?

I think we're running to catch up. Everybody means well, but I think it's the old Greek mythology. Pandora's box has been opened, and I think we're all having difficulty putting that lid down, despite our best chances of guides and support and whatever.

How can you offer guidance, then, if we don't know how to deal with it?


Just on the guidance, that's guidance for councillors, and we had a general guide, 'Social media's a good tool, but there are risks around it', and then, because of the experience of online abuse, we had to provide a supplementary guide on how councillors might deal with it. Unfortunately, one of the opening lines is, 'If you're on social media as an elected politician, you are likely to get criticism and abuse, if not threats, but there are ways you can mitigate it.' And it's basics around blocking, muting, referring to the police if it becomes harassment. So, unfortunately, it goes back to legislation, potentially, but we know that police resources are overstretched, and I think the Metropolitan police commissioner was on the radio recently saying, 'Should they spend resources dealing with burglaries or online abuse?' But, ultimately, and I'm sure you've tried—and Parliament has tried as well—but it's putting pressure on the social media companies, because both of them, the biggest ones, Twitter, Facebook, they almost say in the terms and conditions that criticism and abuse of elected politicians and people in public life is almost fair game because it's part of debate.

And that's unacceptable. 

And there have been some very public examples of where that challenge of politicians has clearly overstepped the mark, clearly offensive, clearly abusive, and, yet, either Twitter or Facebook just will not deal with it, and I think there's a responsibility on those bodies and others to deal with this. 

If I can just say, sometimes, the line is blurred between what's a clear criminal offence, which involves threats, and then just general trolling, and I've seen contradictory advice in terms of how to deal with that just below the criminal—. Do you challenge, or do you block and ignore? And, I think, we were all told to stand up to bullies as children, and it's no different online. So, my concern is, if you don't stand up to them, then they carry on bullying other people, but then it's often a futile exercise. But the point is, it's putting people off going into politics in the first place because they just think, 'Why do I want to put myself up for—? I might want to help my community, and I might want to do good things for people, but I don't want to put myself in the first line of fire.' And I really, genuinely don't know how we overcome that. 

You've also got local newspapers sometimes printing a social media comment in terms of clowns and muppets and so on, and you do wonder whether the line needs to be drawn a bit more firmly as far as that's concerned. 

And the comments, you know. All of us are in local newspapers, and then the comments after a story about us—it's just appalling. 

So, there's a responsibility for the local papers, really, is there?

Well, I think that's something we might look at. But I'm sorry to curtail, I know it's really important, but we've got about 18 minutes left, and, Mark, we need to move on to issues around status and remuneration. 

If I can slip in a supplementary on that last one, but incorporate that, if you will, in the answer to my wider questions because time is short. My wife was subject to what's just been described during her third term as a county councillor—she no longer is a councillor—from within the council. The only process available is that set by the ombudsman, which, quite rightly, emphasises the need for local mediation first. If the perpetrator or alleged perpetrator then reneges on the agreed mediation outcome, all that's left to the victim is to themselves initiate a direct complaint to the ombudsman without support, whereas an employee—quite rightly—would receive the appropriate support from the council as an employee under employment law, in accordance with its own processes and procedures. That, clearly, is another deterrent, because it's telling councillors or potential councillors, 'If you get into difficulty, or are a victim, and you might be suffering heightened trauma or anxiety, you haven't got support.' How do we—

In terms of remuneration now, again, my wife worked more than the full-time week when she was a county councillor, available seven days a week, not only the formal council work but also very much the work on behalf of what she described as the residents, and she did make herself available 24/7, as most councillors of all parties that I know do. To what extent has the remuneration package for councillors currently incentivised a broader group of potential candidates to stand? How do we reflect the potential financial risk that people take on if they are elected in terms of not only their other employment, but lack of resettlement or severance grants? Should allowances be administered differently, or is it time to reassess the role of councillors, looking at whether full-time roles should be mandatory with fewer councillors? Or should we continue with the more voluntarist approach we currently have?


I know there are a lot of issues there, but if you could be fairly brief, it would be very helpful.

I'll start the first part, then. The current basic salary for a councillor is £13,600, and that's for an estimated three-days-per-week commitment.

Yes. One three.

One, three, six, nought, nought. The IRPW, the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales, sets that remuneration itself, but admits that it undervalues councillors as it's been unable to maintain the link to its own benchmark due to political and public pressure. If it had been able to maintain that link, it estimates that the basic salary for a councillor now would be around the £16,000 mark, but it isn't; it is only £13,600.

Leaders in Wales receive between £43,300 to £53,300, depending on what band they're within. And other senior officeholders receive a senior allowance. The basic salary is not an insignificant amount; it does accurately recompense for the time commitment or the responsibility of the role, and it's unlikely to incentivise anyone to stand for office, to be honest.

As we noted earlier, on top of that, councillors can claim the cost of care reimbursement for their cost of care, but that's very rarely taken up. IRPW has undertaken recent work with members to look at changing the role, and their view is that it's often in excess of three days a week that it bases its remuneration on. Most councillors are now saying that they do work full time. The role has expanded in recent years in terms of demand, notably as a result of austerity, and the increased workload that comes along with that in terms of advocacy, benefits and welfare and social housing enquiries. So, the role of a councillor is growing, and it is expanding.

Can I just respond on one key point about the financial risk, and you mentioned the lack of resettlement grant? It's a huge financial risk if you want to become a councillor, potentially. There are some who are retired, some who have part-time employment, but it's always been recognised that, potentially, if you are in employment, it's a risk to your career because you have to devote so much time to being a councillor. If you want to get a promotion, adequate career progression, it is a detriment to it. So, whether the remuneration package that Siân's outlined is sufficient enough to compensate for that—. But the key point you mentioned around the risk and resettlement—obviously, councillors are not entitled to any resettlement grant whatsoever. I think that is a huge risk for, particularly, younger members with caring responsibilities, families, people who are giving up employment, careers to be a councillor, particularly senior councillors. Cabinet members and leaders, in particular, are generally full time.

Speaking personally now, not as a WLGA—well, as a WLGA official—but I've worked with hundreds and hundreds of councillors, senior leaders and members throughout the years, incredibly committed, dedicated people, but a number of them have lost an election in May in any year and gone from earning, potentially, £30,000, £40,000, £53,000 to zero, being unemployed the next day; there's no security at all. I can think of somebody at the last election who was a cabinet member, who was a young single mother, who went from extreme commitment to her community to losing the election, unfortunately, and she had no support whatsoever. And, unfortunately, because of the way politics works, there was no real guidance or support or an exit process that really guided someone who was going through a challenging life experience. So, I think if we are expecting people to commit, particularly, as I say, younger people with family responsibilities, who might give up a career to devote—as people like Debbie do—full time to the community, I think, really, the powers need to be there for the independent remuneration panel to allow some sort of resettlement grant, just as AMs, MPs have, just as most workers are protected with redundancy entitlement. So, that's a bit of a personal—I'll get off my soapbox now—but as I say, I've experienced and worked with a lot of people who have suffered quite significantly from this.

Okay. Daniel, thanks for that. We need to move on, Mark. Jayne Bryant.

Thank you, Chair. You've mentioned the diversity in democracy programmes, and we know that it's noted as the most well-resourced programme of its kind in Wales. We touched on the effectiveness of that, so perhaps you can just say a bit more on that and also some of the other programmes, like Chwarae Teg's LeadHerShip scheme and other things like that, and how they've worked. 


Well, WLGA was an active partner in the diversity in democracy campaign and helped to promote the Chwarae Teg LeadHerShip scheme and, obviously, the current Women's Equality Network Wales mentoring programme. Now, these schemes have focused intensively on recruitment from individuals in under-represented groups and have offered mentoring, shadowing and training opportunities, as we noted earlier. The diversity in democracy programme, I believe, is currently being evaluated and it would be interesting to see that final evaluation. I took part in that as a mentor in the later stages of the scheme, but our view is that too much emphasis has been placed on mentoring. Now, mentoring is a valuable opportunity, but it's often extremely resource-intensive and offers a low return, because it's a significant personal commitment, as I found, as a mentor.

So, with diversity in democracy, you had 51 mentees participating in it. It took place, I think, over about 18 months. There was extensive training and networking from enthusiastic people, but out of those 51, only 16 stood for election and then only four were elected. So, that's not much bang for your buck, really, and it hardly scratched the surface in diversifying the council chambers. So, what would be interesting in that evaluation is to ask the mentees why they decided to drop out, and that will give us an invaluable perspective, because that was a very low conversion rate. And there may be a more effective use of resources that we can use other than that scheme. 

A few people have mentioned Bridgend council in particular and their local democracy week. How are events like that being shared throughout Wales, if that's an effective programme?

In terms of a WLGA programme going forward, as Debbie mentioned, the diversity in democracy programme is being evaluated, so we want to learn the lessons from that. Some things worked very well and, although some of the mentees didn't actually stand for election, it may be that they felt they weren't quite ready yet but they might do it in future, some we do know became town and community councillors and some may have gone into public life in other areas. So, we don't know the direct impact of it. But I think, for a future programme, we'd be keen to lead and certainly work with political parties, the Welsh Government, One Voice Wales and other partners. Local democracy campaigns are key vehicles. It's usually only a week of events. There's a democracy campaign that Parliament co-ordinates as well. So, I think they're useful platforms to get interest and dialogue and focus on democratic matters and local democracy at various points. So, as part of a WLGA campaign, we'd certainly be looking at campaigns throughout the year to try and just refocus people, because 2022, the local elections, are a long way off, so we just need to start warming people up gradually before people really consider putting their nomination papers in. 

I'm also looking at— . We're trying to get more women into politics, but also black, Asian, minority ethnic and disabled people. I think there's a scheme in England, isn't there, that's particularly effective for disabled people: the access to elected office fund? 

Absolutely. That fund helped disabled people in particular with their campaigning and to stand for office. And if I remember rightly—and it will come out in the evaluation of diversity in democracy—I don't think that could  be rolled out in Wales at the time because the Assembly didn't have competence over electoral matters, I think. So, that might have been the issue at the time. But going forward, obviously you've got further powers now, so you should, if you so wish and if the Welsh Government funds it, be able to provide that support in future elections. 

Yes, I wanted to make a point about co-options in our sector, because probably a significant part of the councillors who are in place have been co-opted. I personally don't think that's such a bad thing, either. It means that people from the community—if they're actively encouraged to apply to the council, you might well get a better selection than you would through an election process. But the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 gives a very brief statutory guidance on the process that councils should use to co-opt. Basically, all it says is, 'Give a contact name and give a closing date.' It doesn't give much more than that, but it does say in the guidance that further guidance may be issued. I think there's a real opportunity there to issue guidance that will focus more on the diversity built into that process, encourage councils and maybe even say, 'This is the process you need', and maybe say as a specification for a councillor, 'You need to give feedback to the candidates.' I think it's the time, really, to put the meat onto that bone. 


Thanks. The Fawcett Society report 'Does Local Government Work for Women?' data shows that men are generally in office longer than women, and the local government commission reported that incumbency disproportionately benefits men and acts as a barrier to change. How big do you think the incumbency issue is? 

It can, obviously, affect the turnover of councillors, and it can slow initiatives. I think there's a mixed view. The jury is out. Some people are extremely pro fixed terms—say, standing for two terms—while others don't see incumbency as an issue. So, in the 2017 elections—I'll just check my note—895 incumbents stood for election, and 693 of them were successfully re-elected. Incumbents are more likely to be re-elected than other candidates. It could be a mixture of profile, reputation, track record.  And because most councillors are older white men, successful incumbents are therefore older white men. Saying that, in 2017, 45 per cent of councillors elected were new, so that does allow significant scope for change. But I think the incumbency thing, it's about a 50/50 split—half in favour, half not. 

Just to extend that, if I may, I think the survey you undertook of councillors as part of this inquiry—I think the statistics were that around about 69 per cent of councillors had served for two terms or fewer. So, although this is a sizable majority who've been a councillor for a long time—and some have been councillors for a very long time, as we know—actually, the vast majority have only been councillors for two terms or fewer.  

There's no research available in our sector, but the perception is: incumbency is an issue. But then, time limits may not be the right solution, because many of the smaller community councils find it difficult to attract people to come on to the council anyway. But I think it is an issue, yes. 

Just one last question, which we've got about one minute to deal with, in terms of candidate selection: what needs to change there? Are there any key points to make in terms of candidate selection and what needs to change to achieve greater diversity in local government? 

Well, political parties put their own terms on that, Chair. As you know, in our party we've looked very closely at having mixed wards. That worked very well for us in the 2017 election, but although I had provided our city with a range of candidates, diverse candidates, and in winnable seats, it's a great regret to me that BAME candidates and women candidates were not elected. So, you know, we put the ingredients forward to the electorate, and—. So, I don't have as diverse a council group in Newport as I had expected, and that's the issue. You can never tell. Democracy is a wonderful thing, and you can never tell, really, how the public are going to react to that. So, I guess we just keep at it, we keep presenting that diversity, because it's about people recognising that politicians are not middle-aged white men. Look at the development we've had in women candidates—the Assembly is a wonderful example of that; we know that—and the diversity, so people can recognise that politicians come in all shapes and sizes. I think that's the point, really. 

Well, Leanne, go on, but it will have to be very brief. 


Would you then say 50/50 quotas are not enough? Do you need 70 per cent of women to have 50 per cent elected?

Possibly. I haven't looked at that in detail, but I am a great advocate for all-women shortlists and quotas and so on and so forth, because otherwise it wouldn't happen. 

No. Okay. Well, thanks very much for that, and thank you very much for coming in to give evidence to the committee this morning. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Thank you very much indeed. 

Thank you. Diolch yn fawr. 

We will take a very quick comfort break—no more than five minutes, we're running late. We need to be back by 10.35 a.m. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:30 a 10:37.

The meeting adjourned between 10:30 and 10:37.

3. Ymchwiliad i Amrywiaeth ym Maes Llywodraeth Leol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 2
3. Inquiry into Diversity in Local Government: Evidence Session 2

I'm very pleased to welcome back Jessica Blair from the Electoral Reform Society to give evidence to committee today as our second evidence session. I wonder, Jessica, if I might begin by asking a question about technology, and how technology might be utilised to help increase participation from a more diverse group of people.

Firstly, thank you for having me. It's a real privilege to be here. I think, in terms of technology, there are a lot of options available to be able to modernise democracy in Wales. I think that things like Skype, in particular, for council meetings could really encourage those who have caring responsibilities and those from a rural background. However, I don't think there's a panacea in technology. That alone won't necessarily encourage vast amounts of more diverse candidates or elected members to step forward. 

Okay. Jenny Rathbone I know has some questions on job sharing and how that might assist. 

You have put something in about job sharing in your recommendations. Could you just tell us what you've learnt from the Swansea example?

Okay. I think that the fact that job sharing is already happening at a cabinet level in Wales, and is apparently quite successful for the individuals involved I think is really promising. I think there's a huge scope for job sharing to be used in Welsh politics. There are, I think, things that need to be put in place to ensure that it's done in a robust way, so a good agreement with the members themselves, making sure that everything's clear. If you're talking about actual council members sharing a role, or Assembly Members, if here, I think it needs to be put to the electorate that it is a joint position. 

I also think there are limitations in job sharing, in that I think it's being talked about at the moment as something for only women, and I think there's a risk that there's almost a perception that could develop that it's something that women can do and men have the full-time jobs, if that makes sense. 

I understand entirely what you're talking about, yes.

So, I think there's a real risk. It's something that should definitely be described as available to all, rather than just for jobs for the girls. 

Just picking up on the important point you make about the electorate need to endorse arrangements. Could you envisage that two people who agree that they want to job share could put themselves forward for election so that the electorate can either accept or reject them?

Absolutely. And I think that's a sign of a healthy democracy, and I think a lot of voters would actually recognise that as something realistic, that might suit them as well. So, I think almost that we need to lead by example and trial these things, and then maybe we can see more people with caring responsibilities, with different career options, stepping forward into the political arena.


Okay. In terms of employers, Jessica, and how they might support, or otherwise, employees to stand for a council position, or indeed remain as a councillor, what are the issues there, do you think, around employer attitudes, flexibility at work, and whether there might be some financial compensation for employers whose employees take time off for council duties?

That particular point about compensation is something we haven't got any research or policy on, so I wouldn't really want to speak to that. There are massive issues around flexibility. I think full-time roles, jobs, are essentially a barrier to people engaging with politics, particularly at a local council level, where they are part-time roles. In terms of what employers can do, it isn't something we've particularly looked at.

In terms of both job sharing and flexibility, certain aspects to a councillor's role are fixed—council meetings, committee meetings, and so on—but much of the role is demand led, where the workload is dependent upon the number of residents who ask an individual councillor for help, and the nature of the work that they ask them to undertake. So, simply sharing a job, or introducing flexible working, wouldn't change that, if the public perception in a given area was that Councillor X gets the job done, and Councillor Y doesn't listen to us. Is that not a fair reflection?

I'm not sure that that's necessarily been the experience in Swansea, particularly as it's only been used so far at a cabinet level, where I imagine there's a kind of a caseload system, where things are divvied up, people work on certain days, other days. So, I don't think it's necessarily, from the public's perception, something that they're that engaged in, or necessarily thinking about, when they're approaching their cabinet member or local representative for help.

I just thought that it might, really. If they have a flood, or a housing crisis, or whatever it might be, they need their councillor then, and, if their councillor lets them down and they have an option of another councillor, they'll go to the other councillor.

I would have thought so. I think it's kind of what happens in the Assembly, really, where we have an additional member system, where you've got multiple representatives for one area. And I know that some people feel more comfortable talking to their constituency Assembly Member; others will talk to one of their regional Assembly Members. So, I think, actually, there's a good part of that, in that it gives people the option, it gives people choice.

Except that we're all full-time and on the same basic salary, whereas—

Yes, exactly, and I imagine that there's a very robust system in place, where one councillor can be very clear that they work on this particular day, and to speak to this person. As long as there's good communication links, and the public are aware of that, I can't see any major issues or difficulties.

Well, the public are there expecting a service, so you can't make the public aware—it's like saying, 'We're going to close our local bank branch', or 'We're only going to open this cafe from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the afternoon'.

But it's—. I think the whole point of it is that it's a job share, so there is a full-time role there, it's just divvied up between two people. So, it's not that there isn't a service available, it's that someone else might be delivering the service in that time, and, as long as there's good communication between those two people, I can't see any issues with that.

Yes. For people by people—whatever their political persuasion might be.

In the 2017 local elections, 92 seats were uncontested—7 per cent of all seats. What does this tell us about community cohesion, or community fragmentation, and how do we—you know, is it about the public not being aware of what local authorities do, or is it about people withdrawing from the public sphere?

I don't think there's one single reason for that. The 92 seats—and there was one that was up for re-election, I think, so it's 93 in total—the fact that there were no available people to challenge in those seats, I think is a pretty damning indictment of our local democracy. I think it's a reflection of potentially what we'd call the 'pale, male, stale' embodiment of local government at the moment—the fact that people might not necessarily feel that local government necessarily reflects them or represents them appropriately, that it's something that—. We talk a lot about politics as this thing that happens over here or is perceived to happen over here while real people are saying, 'How does this affect my life?' I think there are a number of ways we could address it, by improving diversity and by bringing politics closer to people, properly engaging in communities, and for, I think, people to really see the benefits of politics on their lives. 


Hi. Thanks for your evidence so far. One of the major barriers as I see it to women and other under-represented groups coming into politics is the role of social media and the way in which people can be abused and bullied and treated in an aggressive manner online. I see that as part of a change in politics, the rise of populism and so on; it seems to have gone hand in hand with that. So, given all of that, this is a big question: how do you think we can change public attitudes towards elected councillors?

I think a lot of the things that we talk about in response to abuse and harassment are reactive and they're not preventative. We talk about being able to better manage abuse on social media. Actually, we need to look at the root causes. I think that distancing between politics and people really comes into play there; the fact that—. Well, we did a report last year, called 'Missing Voices' and we heard a lot of people talk about how rubbish politics is, but how good their local Assembly Member is, and that they know them and they're great, but all of the others are terrible. It's almost like the more personal politics is, the better. But then there's a chicken-and-egg situation of why would you make politics that personal when you're going to get a load of abuse and harassment on social media? So, I think there's a fundamental thing that needs addressing in our democracy and I think it's a long-term strategy fix.

We've recommended that political education play a massive part in that. That shouldn't just be in schools, but there is a question about how to educate people who aren't in a kind of captive audience. Political education for young people is relatively easy, because they're in a classroom, but how do you—

Do you think there should be legislation to ensure Government provides that education to people or that people receive it somehow, because it's not happening by encouragement, is it?

No, it's not going to happen by encouragement. I think the—. Well, the UK Government have obviously just been consulting on this, making it a criminal offence to abuse politicians, particularly on social media—so, there was the imprint consultation there. I think that, again, is quite reactive. I don't know how you legislate on something that is preventative, almost. It's not something we'd necessarily have any evidence on to date. 

I was thinking about in terms of the political education side of things, rather than the stopping of the abuse, really.

I'm not sure it would need legislation as such, but it would need a strong policy direction and to be rolled out effectively like a very good campaign. I don't know if it's necessarily a law; it's a campaign that needs to fundamentally underline that.

Okay. Do you think that enough is being done to stamp out bullying and harassment and cases of discrimination within local government and can you make any suggestions for a change in culture?

'No' is my easy answer to the first question. I think there's—. We gathered lots of evidence in our 'New Voices' report. We surveyed elected members and a lot of—I think approximately 220—local government councillors responded to our survey. We thought we'd put in a questionnaire about abuse and harassment just to see if we got anything back: 54 per cent of women said they'd been abused; 45 per cent of elected representatives overall. So, there's clearly not enough being done. We heard some horrific tales, particularly from local councillors about abuse online, but also abuse within their parties. 

I think councils need to take the lead, I think political parties need to take the lead, and I think there is a role to play in parties working together. We recommended a joint code of conduct should be developed. I think it would help if all the parties were on the same page and had a consistent, accountable and transparent line against abuse and harassment so that elected representatives felt secure in that, if they did have anything happen to them, there would be an appropriate process to deal with that.

So, that leads on to social media training and guidance for candidates and elected members on dealing with abuse. There's also guidance to be given in terms of dishing it out as well, I would suggest. Do you have a view on that?

Yes, I agree with that, and I think, particularly, the thing we heard a lot about was abuse from other politicians. So, I think their parties have seriously lacked in effectively handling that. One of the things that we would urge is an independent process around that. So, parties, I think, when having issues, should be essentially removed from that process and an independent adjudicator should come in and say how that should be dealt with. I think that would help a lot of people feel that there was an element of accountability there. 


That could be quite resource intensive, couldn't it?

It could be quite resource intensive, but I think the options are: tackling something properly, or attempting to tackle something properly, and letting this situation carry on where abuse and harassment is clearly a massive barrier to more diverse people standing for election.

I'm interested in this idea of a joint code between political parties. Can you expand on that and can you also explain how politicians who are not members of political parties would be covered by that?

Yes, I think this is the issue that we have in all of our work on local government, the fact that we can recommend things for parties but there is a huge prevalence of independents in local government in Wales. So, that is absolutely an issue.

In terms of the joint code of conduct, we would anticipate an agreement between parties on processes to deal with abuse and harassment. Also—I have it fleshed out here—. Also reporting procedures and establishing formal procedures for dealing with complaints. I think that's what we've been looking at in terms of a joint code of conduct.

In terms of independents, that is a massive question that we have. There is a role for the local authority to play. And, if there was an independent, almost adjudicator in this, potentially they could play a role in helping independent councillors who have experienced abuse and harassment, in making sure that there is a process for them as well.

One final question on that: do you think that those people then, those independent people, should have specific training on misogyny?

I think there should be training for everyone. Do you mean in terms of independent councillors or in terms of the independent adjudicator?

In terms of understanding, when there are complaints of a bullying nature, the difference between general bullying and bullying that has got a hate-based undertone—mainly from a misogynistic perspective, but not necessarily exclusively to that. 

Yes. I think there should be specific work done to educate and inform everyone, to be honest, about the difference between abuse and harassment and abuse that is directly personal against someone's protected characteristics—about their gender, about their ethnicity, age, disability; I think all of that needs to come into the round in this conversation.

Just a comment: most independents actually join groups, which you know sit as de facto parties with a common agenda.

My question was more about officers, under the points raised by Leanne. Quite rightly, officers are protected by employment law, and there are procedures and processes to follow if they are victims or perpetrators. Councillors are not protected by employment law. Councils are asked by the ombudsman to pursue local mediation as a first step, but then a councillor, if a victim, may potentially then be on their own or they have to self-initiate further action, even though they themselves may be traumatised by their experience.

How do you feel we might be able to give greater support to councillor victims or have greater power to act against councillor perpetrators, without having necessarily to go to law—because there isn't the employment law safety net there—working perhaps with the ombudsman to achieve that?

I think it should be policy led. I think there needs to be leadership from Welsh Government on this issue. There is absolutely a role to play in making sure that we don't treat politicians like they're more made of Teflon than other people. There needs to be a supportive mechanism in place, and I think that absolutely needs to come from a Wales-level directive and led by Welsh Government.

Jessica, just in terms of an independent adjudicator, as you mentioned, do you have any views as to whether an existing body might be suitable to carry out that role, or are you talking about setting up a new body?

I can't think of any body that would necessarily have that function at the moment. I'm sure there is a potential to extend an existing body's functions, but I think that independence needs to be key. I think it would make a strong signal in setting up something specifically, to establish that strong line around this issue. I think councillors would pay attention to that too, if there was something distinct set up for them. 

Okay. If we move on then, Jessica, in terms of candidate selection, I think we'd probably all agree that not enough progress has been made by stakeholders in terms of showing diversity in candidate selection, let alone election. These are issues, obviously, for Welsh Government and the political parties. What particularly would you point the committee towards in terms of what needs to change to make necessary progress? 


I think the answer is that we need to take stronger positive action around candidate selection. We have called for quotas to be put in place, we've called for diversity action plans to be developed to particularly emphasise the elements of diversity that aren't represented by gender. So, when we're looking at ethnic minorities, looking at age, disabilities, different sexual orientation, that kind of thing—it needs to come into a round of a positive action plan. But I really do think that without a blunt tool like quotas, you're never going to see parties truly make steps towards taking action on this issue. 

Yes. And would you apply those quotas to the selection and, indeed, election aspects? Might you have vacant council seats until somebody came forward from the necessary background to satisfy the requirements of the quota, for example? 

I think in terms of selection procedures, I think parties should have to make more effort to find people. I don't think you should have a seat that's vacant in the absence of any women. Parties should have a responsibility to actually make sure that they are representative. If some parties can do it for the Assembly, if parties can do it in other countries, then why can't we do it in Wales? When it comes to the actual election of candidates, I think that would be difficult to do under the current electoral system. I think moving to a system like single transferable vote would allow for multimember wards where you could have more balanced tickets. 

Okay. We will move on, then, to Mark Isherwood and some issues around status and remuneration. 

Why parties can't always do what you advocate is for the reason we're perhaps asking you these questions: because of public perception and barriers. My local paper currently is full of letters complaining about councillors having a pay increase when, in fact, as we know, it's an independent body's recommendation. We know that many councillors then have to publicly respond, stating they'll give their increase to charity and they won't take it themselves and so on. And yet we know that councillors are actually paid on the basis of a three-day week, although the WLGA tells us that the majority work more and, of course, many work full-time on a demand-led basis because they're good councillors. 

So, bearing all that in mind, how do we incentivise people in terms of remuneration packages to come forward? Does the current package tick the box, or if not, how might we change that? 

When we did our 'New Voices' report, we heard a lot of evidence that the amount of work and the salary was a barrier to some people, especially those in full-time jobs that just couldn't make time to throw in something extra on them, or those with caring responsibilities. It led us to recommend that a review be done in terms of looking at whether fewer councillors, on a full-time basis of higher remuneration—sorry, I can't say that word—

—higher salary—would actually alleviate some of those issues. It's not something we necessarily are sure would work but it's something that we believe should be looked at. 

We know that council boundaries are being reviewed, that the numbers of councillors are proposed to reduce in certain areas, but that's based upon local population, local demographics, local sparsity and so on, rather than just an abstract, 'Let's reduce the number of councillors.' So, how would you reconcile a reduction designed to better reflect the current population distributions and an action to have fewer councillors in order to pay them more? 

I think it's something that should be looked at in terms of any review. We would like, I think, councils to recognise a local link a lot more. So, there are options in terms of strengthening and empowering town and community councils, but primarily at a local authority level. This was a recommendation that saw some issues and put forward a possibility of looking at that, and any review should consider those questions. 

So, how—again, try to help me understand, if you would—would you reconcile the potential council number reduction aligned to boundary changes with a reduction along the lines you suggest—or not necessarily suggest, but you referred to—to have fewer councillors with more working full time on a higher pay, which is a different agenda? Is it two different reductions, or how do we join the two together?


No, I don't think they're two different reductions. I think this needs to be seen in the round of reforming local government in general. The representation of people I think is vitally important. I think there are indexes that show how people are represented in terms of numbers across Europe. And I think, as long as people were getting essentially the same amount of representation in terms of hours, numbers, and the cost didn't necessarily increase that much, it's something that should be looked at.  

Even though most councillors are already working full time or near full time?

Yes, and they're doing that, so why don't we recognise the fact that they are?

But then there would be fewer of them, so it would be a reduction overall. But anyhow. Is there any risk, or what risk might there be, if we did reduce the numbers of councillors, in terms of helping or hindering diversity?

I think that there's a strong link between—. The reason we recommended fewer councillors on a stronger remuneration package was to address the diversity issue. So, there should be measures built in. I think that would have to be done with a package of quotas. The two, for me, are very strongly linked together. This is about having a status of local authority member or a role of local authority member that could properly facilitate people from more diverse backgrounds being able to come forward and actually do the job. People have told us it's very, very difficult for them to work part-time or full-time as a councillor while balancing childcare issues, while balancing other duties for work. I think making this a more formal role would alleviate some of those issues, and they are essentially entwined.

How? We heard evidence earlier, for example, that with no evidence of childcare provision within councils, even for employees, let alone councillors, how would this help people with caring responsibilities, for example, be better able to become county councillors themselves? 

Well, there absolutely should be childcare provision in local authorities, first of all. We've also recommended it for the Assembly here. I think, if one of the issues we're being told is that people couldn't possibly juggle being a councillor on top of existing job commitments, or childcare commitments, because the money's not good enough, because the hours would only add to their existing role, then that would clearly, I think, allow people to just be a full-time councillor and lose that other role. 

Okay. Jessica, in terms of town and community councils, we heard evidence earlier that they could be a means of ensuring more diversity at that level, but also then feeding greater diversity into our local authorities in Wales and, beyond that, to other levels of government as well. It may be, I would have thought, less daunting to consider a role as a town and community councillor than, perhaps, going onto a district authority. And if that is the case, if that perception does exist, it may be easier to get people or more diverse candidates into that level of government and then, once they develop in that role, they may well then feel ready to go on to further levels of government. Is that something that you recognise as a possible way of helping to deal with these issues? 

I think there are fundamental issues in town and community councils at the moment that might present barriers to that: the fact that a lot are co-opted and not elected, the lack of public accountability. So, I think in an ideal world it might be a good process to try and encourage local people to engage in their community and then almost present a process or progression path. At the moment, I think that would be quite difficult.

And you see that co-option element as the main reason why that's potentially difficult.

Yes, and the general accountability around town and community councils, their role and responsibilities—I think their role in the community, and how disengaged a community is with them.

There were two things that I thought were worth pursuing a bit from what the gentleman from One Voice Wales was saying. One is Llanelli Town Council, which he sighted as an example of best practice of going around schools to get them to think about representing their communities, which I thought was interesting. The other thing he argued, which we didn't have time to pursue, was that co-option can often provide a more diverse community council, which—I wasn't convinced, put it that way, because it seems to me that co-option may be a way of simply repeating the type of people who are already represented. I wonder if you could just comment on either of those.


So, I think there are elements of best practice in Wales. There are town and community councils who do a good job at engaging their community. I think for the most part there are issues—or for the majority there are issues. I do believe that co-option, especially when led by an established inequality, would only renew those issues of inequality. Unless there's fundamental change in leadership and accountability, that's probably not going to change. I know that it's something that the Welsh Government have been looking at. They've recently reviewed town and community councils, so it's something that we're keen to explore further, for sure.

Jessica, just before we move on, I wonder if you might say a little bit about young people's representation and engagement, then, with local authorities. We heard, as Jenny mentioned, that there are some good examples around Wales—youth councils, youth representatives. We've got school councils all over Wales, and we've got the Youth Parliament about to come into being. What might be structured or developed around that to make sure that we get young people, and, hopefully, a diverse section of young people, getting more engaged with local politics, more interested and, hopefully, wanting to become representatives themselves?

So, this is something we've been looking at a lot lately. We've been running a project called Our Voices Heard, which has been to 11 schools across Wales working with 200 young people in year 9—they'll be the first to vote at votes at 16. What we've been doing with them is really letting them run free. We've been co-producing recommendations on how to improve political education.

So, we've heard a lot from them about—they don't feel that they're being listened to properly, they don't necessarily know enough about politics or they perceive not to know about politics, although, actually, I think they're pretty engaged already. Their recommendations will be launched next week. There are seven recommendations and they include things around putting statutory political education on the curriculum, but also looking at how we make that engaging. So, practical examples—young people being taught how to campaign and actually having a little campaign that they run that's related to their local community.

Mock elections need to be rolled out across Wales, I believe. In Norway, there is a mock election that takes place for all young people between the ages of 11 to 18, and it happens on the same day as their actual election. Then, on the tv in the evening, when you've got their John Curtice talking through an exit poll, you get the young people's results. It means that politicians actually pay attention to what young people think, and it shows that what they're doing is really meaningful.

So, I think there's a package of recommendations we'll be presenting next week that hopefully covers a lot of those issues. I think the only way to really ensure that a diverse representation of young people are standing and are putting themselves forward is to make sure that that goes to everyone, not just the kind of people who are already engaged in politics—it's making sure that politics matters to everyone.

Okay. Well, I'm sure we'll take a keen interest in that report and those recommendations when they come out, Jessica. Just one other thing, though: in terms of school councils, for me, and I'm sure it applies to the other members of the committee, one of the most positive aspects of engaging with young people around the Assembly is to get a constant stream of schools coming here to visit, having a tour, meeting their local Assembly Members and just feeling more engaged with this level of democracy in Wales and how it relates to them. So, with the school councils all over Wales, and in those schools in all our local authority areas, might there be more structure, do you think? Might, for one day in the year, each school council visit the local council headquarters, sit in the council chamber, have a mock debate, be given a tour and learn more about the local authority? Might that be helpful, do you think?

Yes, absolutely. I think measures that show young people politics actually working in practice are always going to be helpful. I think school councils are a fantastic idea, and they really engage a lot of young people in their school about leadership, making decisions and representing others. The only thing I'd warn about them is that they need to come with a package that engages the rest of the school, because I think there's a risk that school councils will only attract the brightest who are already engaged in politics. I think there is a question about how we make sure that the less engaged are also brought along on those kinds of visits and engagements.


Yes, I guess it could be a class visit, as happens here in the Assembly, rather than the school council. Okay, well, thanks very much for that. Jayne Bryant.

Just following on from that point, actually, Chair, I think there are examples in Spain, as well, where children are able to go to local councils or the Parliament there. I think everybody has the opportunity to visit at some point, which I think broadens it out a bit so we're not leaving anybody behind.

Just moving on to the diversity and democracy programme, and along with other leadership schemes within organisations, such as Chwarae Teg's scheme. What's your opinion on the impact and effectiveness of those sorts of schemes? How do you think they've been working?

Jessica Blair 11:11:01