Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

15/06/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Jayne Bryant
Joel James
John Griffiths
Mabon ap Gwynfor
Sam Rowlands

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Catherine Fookes Rhwydwaith Cydraddoldeb Menywod (RhCM) Cymru
Women's Equality Network (WEN) Wales
Chris Dunn Diverse Cymru
Diverse Cymru
Dr Nia Thomas Electoral Reform Society Cymru
Electoral Reform Society Cymru
Dr Stefanie Reher Tyst
Witness
Jess Blair Electoral Reform Society Cymru
Electoral Reform Society Cymru
Joseph Lewis Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association
Lis Burnett Cyngor Bro Morgannwg
Vale of Glamorgan Council
Megan Thomas Anabledd Cymru
Disability Wales
Natasha Davies Chwarae Teg
Chwarae Teg
Nia Wyn Jeffreys Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association
Paul Egan Un Llais Cymru
One Voice Wales
Professor Uzo Iwobi Cyngor Hiliaeth Cymru
Race Council Cymru

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Era Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Manon George Clerc
Clerk
Osian Bowyer Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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 09:01.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:01.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. The first item on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We have no apologies, One of our committee members, Joel James, is joining us virtually. Everybody else is present physically. Are there any declarations of interest? No.

I'm very pleased to say that we continue to offer hybrid format for our meetings. Aside from adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that hybrid way, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items of the meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. 

2. Amrywiaeth mewn Llywodraeth Leol - Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 1
2. Diversity in Local Government - Evidence Session 1

Let's move swiftly on to item 2 on our agenda today, which is our first evidence session with regard to the committee's work on diversity in local government. I'm very pleased to welcome our witnesses today. Joining us here at the Senedd are Councillor Lis Burnett, leader of Vale of Glamorgan Council; Councillor Nia Wyn Jeffreys, deputy leader of Gwynedd Council; and Joseph Lewis, improvement officer with the Welsh Local Government Association. And joining us virtually is Paul Egan, deputy chief officer of One Voice Wales. Welcome to you all. Thank you for coming to give evidence to committee today.

Let me begin by just asking one or two questions to get us under way in terms of an overview, and firstly, whether you think there is sufficient progress in improving diversity of candidates and elected councillors in Wales. Who would like to begin?

If I start, I think it's fair to say it's still a mixed bag. I speak as one of only four women leaders in Wales—that's gone backwards—and as the leader of one of only two gender-balanced councils in Wales. I have to tip my hat to Monmouthshire, because they are gender balanced right across all their groups. We're gender balanced because some groups have overachieved, so to speak, and we've still got a way to go in terms of all groups within the council, and having a gender-balanced cabinet as well, and representation on scrutiny chairs. But I think that, at the moment, there is still a balance. It's not accepted that there is an expectation of diversity in representation, and I think there's still a way to go.

09:05

Thank you, Lis. Does anybody else want to add anything to that? Paul.

We had a team meeting recently—our offices cover the whole of Wales—and generally, it was felt that there'd been very little impact on diversity in our sector. Anecdotally, though, we do a lot of training courses, and the number attending our training courses since the elections last year has rocketed upwards, and what the trainers have noticed is far for more females attending the training. It may be that they weren't elected; they may well have been co-opted. So, I think, anecdotally, we have seen more women in councils throughout Wales. But on the impact on numbers from ethnic minority backgrounds, I think there's been little, if any, impact whatsoever. I do know of three ethnic minority councillors who've held leading positions of chairs over the past few years. Probably, you wouldn't have seen that 10 years ago. So, there has been some impact, but generally speaking, our team felt that there was little impact. 

I think, for us, there's something—and I think we may come on to this a bit later—around the evidence base of where we are, and how we understand what the current diversity of councillors is, just generally across the board. We conducted a desk-based review to have a sense of what the picture looked like across the piece, and I think, while you possibly could argue that some progress is being made in greater diversity across gender, it's much harder to make an assessment of what that picture of diversity looks like across other protected characteristics, because the evidence base is quite low, and we are reliant on a lot of anecdotal evidence and experiences, which could be improved. 

I wasn't a part of the exercise myself, but that would have been just after the elections—so, having a look at what the gender make-up of each council was, and what the cabinet looks like, and the leadership. Lis already referred to a decrease in the number of leaders, for example. 

I'm not sure. 

Perhaps you could provide us with more details of that, if you would, Joseph.

Yes, absolutely. 

That would be good. Joseph, also, ahead of the last elections in 2022, there was an exercise, wasn't there, of bringing councillors together and looking at these issues, and it was decided that councils could make diversity declarations. The WLGA established a new Be a Councillor website, and a new councillors guide website, 'Be a Councillor. Be the Change.' Have you yet made any assessment or evaluation of the impact and the effect of those initiatives?

Not a formal assessment of how impactful those changes have been. I think that the work that we do around how we encourage and how we engage with potential councillors, the stall that we set out for potential councillors, is an ongoing process. We haven't conducted a full review of what that looks like yet, but it's something that we'll look to do at some point over the next cycle. 

Right. There's nothing more you can tell us at this stage. 

There's nothing specific, no. Again, it's more the feedback and engagement that we have with local authorities that would support that feedback that we get. 

Okay. In terms of the current electoral system, do any of you have any views as to whether that's helpful, or whether it hinders in terms of diversity, and whether a different electoral system would be better in achieving or helping to achieve greater diversity?

09:10

Do you want me to start off? It's a tricky one, in that, where selections are already more representative of their own communities, you actually find—. I did a bit of work on the percentage of candidates by gender, and then the percentage of members by gender for each political group within the Vale. And, actually, what that shows is that, percentage wise, there are more women being elected than are selected as candidates. So, you can have a situation with one party where there were only 17 per cent of candidates but 23 per cent of the councillors that were then elected in that party are women. So, in all parties, women held their ground. So, it's not an issue with people being elected, it's an issue with people being available to be elected beforehand. When you've got parties that are 83 per cent male candidates, then you're not going to get gender balance, are you?

In terms of proportional representation, I'm fairly relaxed about that. The last three occasions we've led the council, we've been in coalition. It's nothing new. Working collaboratively is constructive and it also is something that works well in terms of supporting a diverse representation within local government. Whether PR is going to be a stepping stone to that, I don't know, but I think that there are benefits, and certainly creating that expectation of a wider range of representation, because at the moment we tend to talk an awful about gender, but, actually, it goes right across the piste. Our youngest councillor at the election was 18 years and four months, and he's now a scrutiny vice-chair. There is no reason why we cannot have diverse councils, but the structures would be helpful.

Buaswn i'n cytuno efo sylwadau Lis, i ddweud y gwir. Nid da lle gellir gwell, wrth gwrs, ond rydyn ni wedi gweld newid, er enghraifft, efo cydbwysedd merched a dynion yng Ngwynedd. Roedden ni efo 20 y cant o gynghorwyr yn ferched yn y sesiwn blaenorol, a rŵan rydyn ni wedi symud i tua 36 y cant. Wrth gwrs, rydyn ni eisiau anelu at 50 y cant, onid oes? Dwi'n meddwl, fel roedd Lis yn dweud, ddaru hynny ddim digwydd ar hap na jest achos ewyllys da. Mi wnaeth o gymryd andros o lot o ymdrech, gweithio efo'r WLGA, gweithio yng Nghyngor Gwynedd, gweithio ar draws pleidiau, a mynd allan a rili meithrin merched er mwyn dod â nhw yn eu blaenau. Achos dydy pobl, dwi ddim yn meddwl, yn y grwpiau yma sydd wedi eu tangynrychioli, ddim yn mynd i jest gweld twît neu rywbeth a phenderfynu bod yn gynghorydd. Mae o'n broses hir o ddod â nhw yn eu blaenau a dangos iddyn nhw. So, mae o'n cymryd andros o lot o waith, dwi'n meddwl, ac rydyn ni yn gweld llwyddiant ym maes merched, fel rydych chi'n ei ddweud, ond dwi yn poeni am amrywiaeth efo pobl LGBTQ, grwpiau ethnig, a grwpiau eraill.

Ond fel roeddech chi'n dweud hefyd, John, dwi'n meddwl—. Dwi wedi bod yn ymwneud â gwleidyddiaeth am mor hir rŵan—dwi wedi bod ar sesiynau mentora, dwi wedi bod ar hyfforddiant, dwi wedi bod ar hyn, dwi wedi bod ar y llall. Beth sy'n mynd i rili creu y newid yma rydyn ni i gyd eisiau—. Dwi'n meddwl efallai ei bod hi'n amser i gael rhywbeth strwythurol i newid, fel newid y system bleidleisio. Mae yna sôn wedi bod am gwotâu a ballu, ond dwi'n meddwl rydyn ni wedi bod yn—. Wel, yn bendant, rydw i, a dwi'n gwybod bod llawer o rai eraill rownd y bwrdd, wedi bod yn siarad o gwmpas y materion yma mor hir, os ydyn ni'n wir eisiau gweld shifft, efallai bod angen inni fod yn ddewrach a gwneud y newidiadau mwy strwythurol yma.

I would agree with Lis's comments, really. Things, obviously, can be improved, but we have seen change, for example, with the balance of men and women in Gwynedd. We had 20 per cent of councillors who were women in the previous session and, now, we've moved to about 36 per cent. Of course, we want to aim to 50 percent, don't we? But I think, as Lis was saying, that didn't happen by accident or because of goodwill. It took a lot of effort, working with the WLGA, working with Gwynedd Council, and across parties, and going out and nurturing women and bringing them forward. Because people in these groups that are underrepresented aren't just going to see a tweet and then decide to be a councillor. It's a long process of bringing them forward and showing them what could be done. So, it takes a lot of work, I think, and I think we're seeing success in this area with women, but I am concerned about diversity regarding LGBTQ people, ethnic groups, and other groups. 

But as you were saying too, John—. I've been involved in politics now for so long—I've been on mentoring sessions, I've had training, I've been on this, that and the other. What's really going to create this change that we all want, and I think—. Perhaps it's time to have structural change, for example changing the voting system. There's been talk about quotas and so forth, but I think we've been—. Certainly, I have, and I know others around the table have, been talking around these issues for so long, if we really want to see a shift, then perhaps we need to be braver and introduce these most structural changes.

09:15

Nia, just in terms of the current electoral system and now that local authorities in Wales have the ability to introduce a different system, if they wish to, do you see any prospect of that? Is that a possibility in your authority, or any others around you, do you know?

Dwi'n meddwl, fel dwi newydd ddweud, buasai'n rhaid ichi fod yn andros o ddewr i fod yr unig gyngor yng Nghymru i wneud y cam ymlaen i STV. Mae'n rhaid i fi ddweud, dwi yn gefnogol o'r system yna, ond buasai wedi bod yn llawer gwell gen i fod y wlad i gyd a phob cyngor yn symud i'r system yna. Dwi'n meddwl bod o'n broblem fod cynghorau yn gorfod dewis, a dwi'n meddwl bydd o'n ddryslyd i'r trigolion a ballu. So, ie, mae'r sgwrs yn un byw ar draws llywodraeth leol ar y funud, ac yn bendant yng Ngwynedd, so mae'r drafodaeth yn bendant yn mynd ymlaen.

I think, as I've just said, that you would have to be very brave to be the only council in Wales to take this step forward to STV. I have to say that I am supportive of that system, but I would much prefer it that every council in the country move to that system. It is a problem that councils have to choose, and I think it would be confusing for the electorate. The conversation is a live one across local government currently, and certainly in Gwynedd, so the discussion is definitely going ahead.

Can I just question that? Thank you for those comments. I'm just wondering where the evidence is that shows that there'd be more women, or maybe more diversity in democracy, if STV was in place. Because we know in Scotland, they've had STV since 2001, and they have 35 per cent of their councillors as women; in Wales, it's 34 per cent. So, there's a 1 per cent difference, even though Scotland have had STV for over 20 years now. I was wondering where the evidence shows that having STV in place might improve that diversity.

Roedd yna esiampl dda gen ti, Lis, onid oedd, os oes yna wardiau aml-aelod, bod posib sicrhau bob amser bod yna un dyn ac un merch yn cael eu dewis i fod yn ymgeiswyr a ballu. So dwi'n meddwl bod y peth aml-ward yn ei wneud o'n haws i wneud pethau fel yna na jest system first-past-the-post, lle mae gen ti un enillydd ac un person—wel, grŵp o bobl, wedyn, yn colli. So, mae yna bethau ymarferol fel yna sydd yn fwy posib, os dwi wedi deall yn iawn.

There was a good example from you, Lis, wasn't there, that, if there are wards that are multimember, we could ensure that there's one man and one woman being selected as candidates. So, I do think that the multimember ward issue makes that easier than just having a system that's first-past-the-post, where you have one winner and then a group of people as runners-up. I think those things are more possible, if I've understood it correctly.

I don't know if you wanted me to clarify on that: this is more of a political thing, where—. As Nia said, I think we started working on achieving balance in about 2006 or 2007, in a run-up to the 2008 elections, so these things don't happen quickly, if you're trying to do it without structural change. And we took the discussion that our target was 50 per cent; we were at 19 per cent at the time, and in that, it became that, in any two-member ward, it had to be at least one woman and, in any ward above that, if it was an odd number, if it was a three-member ward, then, actually, there was an expectation that it would be two women and a man, to get some degree of balance there. And that's what's worked since 2012; we have been balanced as a Labour group.

The expectation within the group is that we will be diverse, and I think that, through proportional representation, there is a potential to put those sorts of mechanisms into place, which then would cover all representation, not just the political groups that are currently operating along those sorts of systems. So, I think that's what we've been talking about previously, to say, 'Well, what are the structural mechanisms that should be in place to achieve that?' And it could be that, if, for PR, you create a larger ward, it's multimember and you are able, then, to look at how diversity would work in that respect.

Yes. And it could be a structural requirement—a requirement for all those parties putting forward candidates.

Yes. Because I think, going back to your earlier comment about signing up to a diversity declaration, that's all very well and good, because then we went, 'Yes, that's a good idea, we'll sign this', but not everybody necessarily worked to those. So, it's a good show of commitment, but that wasn't a structural change, was it?  

09:20

Diolch am ddod y bore yma, a diolch am eich atebion chi. A gaf i ofyn yn syml ar gefn yr hyn rydych chi wedi'i ddweud, Nia a Lis yn fwy na'r ddau arall, yn eich barn fwy personol yn hytrach na phroffesiynol, pam fod yna dangynrychiolaeth gennym ni o fenywod, o bobl o leiafrifoedd ethnig, o bobl ag anableddau? Pam fod hynna'n bodoli, yn eich barn chi? 

Thank you for coming here this morning and for your answers. Could I just ask on the back of what you have said, Nia and Lis more than the other two, in your personal view rather than professional view, why is there under-representation in terms of women, people from ethnic minorities, people with disabilities? Why does that exist, in your opinion? 

Well, that's a good one. I don't think—and I don't want to draw on this, but you cannot walk away from the impact that the abuse received by political representatives has on people who are looking to get involved. In reality for most backbench councillors, it wouldn't be a huge problem, but as soon as you put your head above the parapet, it will be. Yesterday, actually, I just ran a quick Twitter poll to ask 'why would you not—' you know, 'what would stop you being a councillor?' Sixty per cent said the abuse, and whether it is or whether it's a perception, it is real, and it takes a lot of getting used to. It is really quite hard at times. I've got a whole catalogue of screen grabs. One day, I'll be able to take action—maybe when laws change. But it is really difficult, particularly when it's targeted. 

We've had instances this year where a Member of the Senedd has used clips of our scrutiny committees to attack two female councillors. That's not acceptable, is it? Other local authority leaders actually said to me that there ought to be something that can be done, and again, from asking in a Twitter poll what should be done and giving the whole range of it, it's that the abuse should be tackled. I can go into details of what we've been doing, which seems to be having an effect, but that, for most people—. If you're from an under-represented group, you are already being very brave to step forward to want to represent your community. Most people go into politics, as we all know, to make a difference, not just to be in a position. And so, it comes very, very hard the first time that they suffer abuse. Of course, people within their political groups get to hear about that; they see it on social media. It's an insidious impact on politics as a whole and on people who are trying to make a difference to their community at grass-roots levels. 

So, I don't think that we can walk away from that, and I don't think that we can talk about structures and what things we're going to do and what boxes we're going to tick until we actually tackle that issue. Sorry—I got on my soapbox on that.   

Gwir bob gair gan Lis yn fanna—cytuno'n llwyr. Efallai eich bod chi'n gwybod bod un cynghorydd yng Ngwynedd wedi gorfod cael larymau a ballu wedi eu rhoi yn y tŷ am fod yr heddlu wedi asesu bod yna berygl gwirioneddol i'w bywyd hi. Mae o'n sbectrwm mawr, ond mae o'n rhywbeth dyddiol mae gwleidyddion yn gorfod wynebu, a dwi'n gwybod bod o'n debyg i chi hefyd. 

Ar gynffon hynna hefyd, mae'n anodd—. Mae yna ddywediad yn Saesneg, 'Fedrwch chi ddim bod beth rydych chi ddim yn ei weld', a dwi'n meddwl os nad ydyn ni'n gweld pobl efo anableddau ar ein cynghorau lleol, os nad ydyn ni'n gweld pobl o grwpiau ethnig, mae'n anodd i bobl ifanc feddwl bod o'n rhywbeth iddyn nhw, neu bod o'n rhywbeth fedran nhw ei wneud. Felly, ie, dwi'n gobeithio, i fod yn bositif, fydd o fel pelen eira—y mwyaf rydyn ni'n gweld pobl yn llwyddo, bod o'n mynd i ysgogi fwy o bobl wedyn i ddilyn y trywydd yna. Mae yna werth, dwi'n meddwl, i amlygu lle mae pobl wedi llwyddo o grwpiau sydd ddim wedi'u cynrychioli gymaint.

That's true, every word—I agree. Perhaps you know that one councillor in Gwynedd has had to have alarms placed in the house, because the police had assessed that there was a real danger to her life. It's a very wide spectrum, but it's something that happens on a daily basis and something that councillors have to face, similar to your experience. 

On the back of that as well, it's difficult—. There is a saying in English, 'You can't be what you can't see', and I think if we don't see people with disabilities on our local councils, if we don't see people from ethnic groups, it's difficult for young people to think that it's something for them, or perhaps something that they could do. So, to be positive, I hope that it will be like a snowball—the more we see people succeeding, it will inspire and encourage others to follow that path. There is value, I think, in highlighting where people have been successful from groups that aren't adequately represented. 

09:25

Yes, our sector's a little different. But some of the issues that we experience in relation to people not standing for election are, first of all, that many of the councillors in community and town councils are not linked to a political party—they’re independent, so they’re on their own. And some of them are finding it difficult to manage the nomination process, and the view of One Voice Wales is that that process needs to be re-examined to make it simpler to encourage more people to come forward.

The second thing is that we don’t get many enquiries about online abuse, but what we do get, though, are enquiries about poor behaviour at meetings, and that poor behaviour, if it’s known in the town or the community, that could well be a way that people are put off from standing for election, or even putting their name forward for co-option. And the other point is, I think within councils that are independent, people who do stand for election or put their name forward for co-option, they often do that because they’re nudged by somebody in their reference group, and if the councillors are particular individuals and not necessarily diverse, then the likelihood is that the nudges will be made by those who are already on there, so actually, they’re nudging people who are probably from a similar type of background.

Now, our view is that more needs to be done in relation to working with schools, possibly universities as well. We know of one senior lecturer at Swansea University who's going to be encouraged to try and build in the work of community and town councillors into the curriculum of a degree course in politics. We know of a diversity project up in Blaenavon, involving engagement with schools, and our view is that we need to do far more with young people. Maybe a bit of encouragement from the Welsh Government to look at the opportunities to appoint youth representatives, and also maybe a video or something giving good practice studies of work within community and town councils, and also positive images of those from diverse backgrounds who are already in community and town councils, so those nudges might actually not be the necessary components of getting more people to stand for election.

Thank you, Chair. I just want to quickly come in on what Paul was saying. I know that there's a by-election in my village for the community council at the moment, and I know that the candidate had to get 10 signatures to stand, but then I only had to sign the form myself to stand for the Senedd, if I remember rightly. So, there is that—I think Paul is right in the sense that it could be made a lot easier for people to stand. 

But I just wanted to come back to Councillor Burnett's comment there—I fully agree with that. I think one of the issues that does put people off from standing is the level of abuse, but I think also, as politicians, we've got to be mindful of our own actions as well in the Chamber and online. I just wanted to ask Nia a quick question about single transferable vote. Obviously, the point of that, then, is that it creates multiple member districts and all that, and there's a concern that it further detaches elected representatives from those who they represent. But obviously, we're talking in some cases about quite big geographical areas. Do you think there's a concern then that those who have disabilities or may be less active would struggle then to do those duties? Because I know that when I was a councillor, when I talked about advice surgeries, leaflets, everything, I had to fund that myself; there was no support from a political party, per se, and I just wanted Nia's views on that, then. 

Ie, mae hwnna'n bwynt digon teg, ac yn bwynt da. Mae Gwynedd, wrth gwrs, yn gyngor reit fawr yn barod, onid ydy, gyda wardiau mwy gwledig, a buasai hynna'n medru bod yn broblem. Mae hwnna'n bwynt da. Roeddwn i'n meddwl mwy am bwynt Sam wedyn am esiamplau eraill a lle mae tystiolaeth. Dwi ddim yn gwybod a ydy San Steffan, lle mae gennyt ti'r sefyllfa first-past-the-post yn dal i fodoli, a chynrychiolaeth reit fach o ferched, i gymharu â'r lle yma, lle mae gennyt ti system sydd yn fwy proportional ac mae i weld bod y cydbwysedd rhwng merched a dynion yn well yn y fan yma. So, ie. Na, dwi'n cytuno efo'r pwynt, a dwi ddim yn meddwl bod yna fel golden bullet sy'n mynd i ddatrys hyn, ond dwi'n meddwl efallai buasai rhywbeth ar hyd y llinellau wardiau aml-aelod a ballu yn medru bod yn rhan o'r ateb, felly.

Yes, that is a fair point and a good point. Gwynedd, of course, is quite a large council already, with more rural wards, which could be a problem. That's a good point. I was thinking more about Sam's point, then, regarding the other examples and where there's evidence. I don't know whether, for example, Westminster, where you have the first-past-the-post system still existing, and representation of women is quite small, perhaps, compared to this place, where you have a system that's more proportional and it seems that the balance between women and men is better here. So, yes. No, I agree with the point; I don't think there is a golden bullet that is going to solve this, but perhaps something along the lines of multimember wards could be part of the solution. 

09:30

Okay. Okay, thanks, Joel. Joseph, could I just ask you, from a WLGA perspective, looking across Wales, whether any local authorities are actively considering changing the electoral system, and what do you see as the practical barriers to that possible change?

So, there isn’t, as far as I’m aware of, any local authority looking at STV. In teams of the practical barriers, I would say we're relatively—. We're still—. The elections, in some ways, they feel like not that long ago, but, in some ways, they feel like quite long ago. There's been quite a lot of activity in this space for local authorities—coming to terms with the new self-assessment duties, panel performance duties. They’ve also established corporate joint committees. That does take up—. As well as inducting members into the role of councillors; we had quite a turnover in the last local elections. So, there's quite a lot of activities happening already in this area, and there is a bit of a capacity issue. So, I think that's probably the issue.

They’re sort of busy getting on with the day job and bedding in some new structures.

Yes, there's quite a lot of new structures, I think. The self-assessment is similar, but also different. You've got some local authorities considering when they’ll do their panel performance assessments as well, and then, yes, the introduction of corporate joint committees as being a new structure, that has been quite challenging and takes a bit of resource as well.

Okay, thanks, Joseph. Okay, we’ll move on to Carolyn. Carolyn Thomas.

Okay, thank you. I’ve just got some questions on the local government survey and data. So, to what extent do you think the local government candidate survey continues to provide robust evidence of the profile of candidates elected as councillors, and should minimum response targets be applied? So, WEN Wales shares concerns that the response rate is very low, ranging from 1 per cent to 40 per cent in different authorities. And I must say, Lis, that I liked your data. It was really interesting—so, your little survey data. So, just responses, really, regarding that.

So, I think, yes, the response data, or the low level of response, kind of speaks for itself. I'm not sure I could speak to whether filling in the form should be mandatory or not. But I think there's a general point that local authorities collect equality monitoring information of their staff, and, if you look at the equality annual reports that local authorities produce, even though the data that they have on their own staff isn't always perfect—far from—it is higher, considerably higher, than the candidate survey, and there's quite—. Welsh Government hosted the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' summit last week, or the week before, and I think a key theme that came out of that was, if you—. To paraphrase, if you care about diversity, it's really helpful if you can actually measure it. So, there are some kinds of challenges there, I think, with the response rates that we're having in order to—. Because, in terms of evaluating how impactful the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 changes have been on candidate diversity, it's difficult to make that assessment qualitatively, when the evidence base is a bit patchy, and there are some practical issues there, because local authorities are collecting this information 22 different ways, effectively, in their local systems, so there are some practical challenges there.

I think what I would say on that is, in any system where you're trying to collect data, there has to be an element of trust, and so you won't get effective responses unless people actually understand and believe in what you're trying to achieve with collecting that data. So, I think there has to be an overall commitment to diversity, and, therefore, if people understand that we are collecting this data in order to measure our results going forward, rather than collecting data on you as a candidate—. I think there's got to be a slight shift in terms of our explanations as to why we're collecting it. There's always the 'prefer not to say' box, isn't there? [Laughter.]

09:35

Yes. As well. Which goes on to—it says here—whether data collection on candidates' and elected members' protected characteristics are sufficient at present, and what could or should be done to improve it. At a previous session, a member councillor said, as well as having people with protected characteristics, you should also look at different backgrounds and experience of life as well, which is never really captured, is it, on these things. So, if you're going to have diversity of people making different decisions, you need to get people from different socioeconomic classes as well and experiences of life, which was something that's not been mentioned.   

It's quite interesting, though, that one thing that does happen within councils is that members have performance development reviews, and I'm part way through my group at the moment, and I think the qualitative information that you get within that environment is hugely important, because you can learn to understand people's skills and talents, and also the challenges that they're facing within their role. By understanding the current cohort, we also can build on the understanding of what people might be having in the future. We developed a whole range of backbench roles. We used our champion positions. And we use people that have links into those networks within our communities to be able to forge bridges out into the communities, and that seems to be doing quite well at the moment. 

I remember that being introduced just before I left as a councillor and being really good, because, as you say, backbenchers have their own skills and talents that need to be brought forward, and you wouldn't know unless people have time to talk to them. And the champions—. I know in the past champions were introduced at councils, but then—. It's not mentioned here at all about pay, but that's been brought up quite a few times as well as a barrier. I remember, when champions were introduced, it was, 'Is there a pay with this, a special responsibility allowance?' So, it was just like—. And if people have got time, whether they're working and whether they're being a councillor on top—it's time and money, isn't it, a balance, and childcare and everything else.  

It is. It's quite a developmental role for us. Whereas, historically, there used to be appointments, and quite often it was cabinet members and things, we, actually, have taken it away from that, and said this is a developmental role for backbenchers to learn more about the workings of the council and get more embedded in the communities that they're passionate about. 

That's really good. Because it was mentioned before about how some people become councillors but don't understand the role very well or understand what's going on. So, I suppose that helps them to grow and grow their talents as well on the pathway, if they want to grow and become a cabinet member. So, very interesting. I'm supposed to be asking about data here, but I'm going—. 

Sori. A gaf i—?

Sorry. May I—?

Roeddwn i jest eisiau adeiladu ar dy bwynt di, Carolyn, am amrywiaeth yn y ffordd fwyaf eang, achos mae llywodraeth leol yn gwneud penderfyniadau pwysig iawn sy'n effeithio ar fywydau pobl, onid ydym, pethau fel gwisg ysgol neu lefel y dreth gyngor. Felly, fel rwyt ti'n ei ddweud, dydy o ddim mor hawdd mesur ar ffurflen, ond dwi'n meddwl bod yr amrywiaeth yna o gefndiroedd gwahanol, pobl o'r dosbarth gweithiol, pobl o gefndiroedd sydd efo profiad byw o dlodi a ballu—mae'n rili bwysig ein bod ni'n edrych ar yr holl ystod o amrywiaeth, achos mae pobl o'r cefndiroedd yna efo persbectif andros o bwysig, a'n bod ni yn clywed hynny mewn llywodraeth leol hefyd. Ond fel rwyt ti'n ei ddweud, yn y data, sut wyt ti'n mesur hynny ar ffurflen? Mae'n anodd. Ond diolch iti am godi'r pwynt.

I just wanted to build on your point, Carolyn, about diversity in the widest sense, because local government does make very important decisions that do impact people's lives, on things like school uniforms or council tax levels. So, it's not as easy to measure on a form, but I do think that that diversity in terms of people's backgrounds, people from the working class, people who have lived experience of poverty, for example—it's very important that we do look at the full range of diversity, because people from those backgrounds have a very important perspective, and that we hear that at local government level too. But, as you say, in the data, how do you measure that by form? It is difficult. But thank you for raising that point.

09:40

We're rather pressed for time, as so often. Sam Rowlands.

Thanks, Chairman. I'll perhaps just wrap up my points into one question, because of time, and thank you, again, for coming this morning; it's really, really appreciated. You've touched a lot on the importance of gender balance within local authorities; it has also been touched, to be fair, on other protected characteristics as well, particularly around that we are seeing fewer people from a black, Asian, ethnic minority background in our local authorities, although that has increased.

I'm really interested to hear of more of a cultural shift within the Vale of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire to enable a better gender balance, as was talked about, in those councils. That's at a party level, I guess, within those local authorities, committing to it at a party level, rather than a top-down, 'You must do this' quota thing. So, I'm just trying to understand whether you think quotas or that strict instruction, whether it's legislative or otherwise, would be too blunt a tool to enable better representation, because I guess the trick is going to be, with that type of thing, that there are a number of protected characteristics, and, whilst gender is an important one within there, there are lots of other protected characteristics, and how can you force quotas on all very important protected characteristics? So, I was just wondering about that broader question: would quotas be too blunt a tool, do you think? Is there more that we can do, on the other hand, to encourage a cultural shift, rather than a blunt tool of quotas?

I don't know why I'm putting that on. [Laughter.] This is very, very interesting, because it plays out in a lot of the conversations that have been had, but I think, being totally blunt, there comes a point when pleasant discussion doesn't cut it. There comes a point when you have to say, 'It is not right when the vast majority of representation in an area is white middle-aged men.' So, there has to be a decision about at what point has something got to be done about it.

Now, those decisions, as you said, have been taken within political parties as to what they're going to do about selection of their own candidates. But, if that's not happening, because each local authority is autonomous, obviously—. If that is not happening then I think there has to be a change. People will say, 'Ah, well, you're just meddling with the system et cetera,' and there's an insinuation maybe that people from underrepresented groups aren't quite as good, otherwise they would have been selected. Well, I could rant for hours on that one. But, as I say, I think—. We've shown it can be done. I talk very often with Councillor Brocklesby in Monmouthshire, and it's a joy. It changes how a local authority works, it changes the conversation, it changes the nature of discussions and how we go about doing things, so—

Perhaps the point I want to expand on a little bit is that sharing of best practice, as well, and is that really taking place across local authorities in Wales, do you think? So, you've mentioned talking to colleagues in Monmouthshire, which is lovely. Are other local authorities, or parties or groups within local authorities, having those conversations with yourselves or perhaps Monmouthshire, or is the silence quite deafening?

I'm going to look at Nia. I think we have lots of conversations, don't we? In terms of local authority leadership across Wales, then we are in regular conversation about all sorts of topics, and, certainly, sharing good practice in terms of diversity is exactly one of those, because we're not quiet, are we?

No. I'm grateful for their examples at the WLGA, because how would our paths meet? I'm up in Gwynedd, you're down here. But there are lots of opportunities for that shared learning amongst councillors, I think.

09:45

I mentor a few cabinet members from other local authorities as well.

And, really, one last little point, Chair. I appreciate that time is going.

From a WLGA perspective, do you think there’s real urgency amongst WLGA for this issue? I mean, I was elected first in 2008 and we were having these conversations as a local authority. I’m very conscious that, I think it's 21 per cent of people in Wales are disabled, and we never see that reflected in our local authority representation, as well. I'm just wondering, is the WLGA just kind of ticking a box here when having these conversations, or is it actually taking this issue seriously, do you think?

I think, yes, local authorities do take this issue seriously. There is the challenge of balancing what is decided at the party level and what is the power of local authorities to impact change, because they're not responsible for how candidates are selected and stuff. I refer back to the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan', because there are some commonalities broadly in what we're talking about here. But I think about this notion of an implementation gap, which the action plan spoke about quite a lot, and I think there's also recognition from local government that that's a fair point, but more does need to be done. But the will is there. There's a balance of the hearts and minds type; how do you change the culture of an organisation to make it feel more inclusive and be more inclusive? And that's not an easy thing to resolve, or something that can be resolved overnight.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Dwi jest eisiau edrych yn sydyn iawn ar rannu swyddi—job sharing. I ba raddau y mae job sharing, rhannu swyddi, yn cael ei hyrwyddo o fewn llywodraeth leol, ac yn meddwl am y gwaith yna, faint o ddata sy'n cael ei gasglu ynghylch hynny? Oes yna wybodaeth gennym ni ar lefelau job sharing?

Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to look quickly at job sharing. To what extent is job sharing something that is promoted within local government, and thinking about that work, how much data is collected about that? Do we have information about job sharing?

I'm not aware of any information collected around job sharing. It's something I could go away and try and find out, and perhaps find further evidence to the committee, but it's not something I'm aware of, or that I'm involved in.

Mae o’n cyffwrdd ar rywbeth roedd Carolyn yn sôn am yn gynt, hefyd, efo—[Anghlywaday.]—champions, a ballu, neu Aelodau yn cysgodi Aelodau Cabinet. Am fod yna nifer cyfyngedig o uwch swyddi mewn cyngor sir, fel dwi'n deall, mi fuasai, wedyn, rôl job share yn mynd â dau o'r rolau  yna, sydd jest yn ychwanegu at—a dwi'n gwybod mae o'n rhywbeth rydych chi wedi trafod yn y fan yma yma—Aelodau'r fainc gefn ar bwyllgorau craffu, a ballu. Felly, dwi'n meddwl y buasai yna fwy yn medru cael ei wneud i hwyluso rhannu swyddi, achos fedraf i ddim meddwl off top fy mhen am esiampl o hynny yn digwydd mewn cyngor sir. Dwi ddim yn gwybod os wyt ti'n gwybod am hyn, Lis.

It touches on something that Carolyn mentioned earlier regarding the—[Inaudible.]—champions, or Members shadowing Cabinet Members, for example. Because there's a restricted number of senior posts in a local authority, as I understand it, the role of job share would take two of those roles, that just adds to—and I know you've discussed this here—backbench Members on scrutiny committees. So, I think more could be done to facilitate job sharing, because I can't think off the top of my head about an example of that happening in a county council. I don't know if you know about anything, Lis.

My understanding is that Monmouthshire have a job share, but I think as Nia was saying, there are some very practical issues around job shares, in that—. I can give an example: we've only got eight cabinet members. I have one senior salary position vacant at the moment; one cabinet member has stood down, so I've got two. I could appoint a job share and that would take both of those senior salary positions, although they'd only be getting half a salary each. There is also a practical position that, when we often work in coalition, the groups are quite balanced, and it means that it takes another backbencher out of being able to fulfil a scrutiny function, which then puts extra pressure on others. So, in some ways, we tend to talk as a group in terms of the practicalities of it. We haven't got to that position yet, but I foresee that it would be very useful in the future, but there are some issues that would have to be overcome to make it effective at the moment.

09:50

I ddilyn hwnna, felly, a mynd yn ôl un cam o fod yn gynghorydd i fod yn ymgeisydd, oes yna reswm pam na ddylwn ni gyflwyno rhyw fath o rannu swydd—job share—ar gyfer ymgeiswyr? Mae Chwarae Teg, er enghraifft, wedi galw am hynny. Ydy o'n rhywbeth rŷch chi'n meddwl buasai'n ffordd dda ymlaen er mwyn cael mwy o amrywiaeth yn ein hymgeiswyr, o leiaf?

Following on from that, and going back one step from being a councillor to being a candidate, is there a reason why we shouldn't introduce some kind of job sharing, for candidates? Chwarae Teg, for example, have called for that. Is it something that you think could be a good way forward in terms of having more diversity in our candidates, at least?

I can't see that there would be an issue with that, if that allowed people to come forward. I think a huge benefit coming forward, which could marry with that, is the whole hybrid working thing, which has had a huge impact on people's ability to stand. That has allowed them to manage the conflicting priorities that they have. So, we personally haven't had people exploring job shares, but I think if that was a possibility, I'd be relaxed about that.

Ocê. Os caf i ofyn yr un olaf sydd gen i, ac mae Lis newydd gyffwrdd arno fo o ran gweithio hybrid, sut mae hynna wedi effeithio ar y rôl o fod yn gynghorydd? Dwi'n gwybod fel rhiant ifanc, gymharol—mae gen i blant ifanc, beth bynnag—mae'r posibilrwydd yna o weithio adref a gwneud y gwaith yma yn help mawr. Ac o'r cynghorwyr dwi'n eu hadnabod, dwi'n gweld eu bod nhw'n medru gwneud—mae'n rhoi mwy o opsiynau iddyn nhw fod adref efo'r teulu a gwneud gwaith y cyngor a mynychu cyfarfodydd pwyllgorau craffu ac yn y blaen. Ydych chi'n meddwl bod y diwylliant yna wedi newid—ei fod o'n beth o fudd, bod o'n rhywbeth parhaol? Ydy o'n rhywbeth y dylem fod yn edrych i'w sefydlu fel rhywbeth parhaol ac i fabwysiadu yn hynny o beth? Ac yr un modd, efo cynghorau cymuned a thref, ydy o'n rhywbeth y dylid ei fabwysiadu ymhellach efo cynghorau tref a dinas hefyd?

Okay. If I could ask the last question from me, and Lis has just touched on this in terms of hybrid working, how has that impacted the role of being a councillor? I know, as a young parent, a relatively young parent—I have young children, at least—that that possibility of working from home and doing this work is a great help. And from the councillors I know, I can see that it offers them more options in terms of being at home with the family and doing the council's work and attending scrutiny committee meetings and so on. Do you think that that culture has changed—that it's beneficial, that it's something permanent? Is it something that we could look to establish as a permanent arrangement and to adopt in that regard? And similarly with community and town councils, is it something that should be adopted further with those community and town councils as well?

I'm talking too much.

Yes, I can comment from the community council perspective. I hear different views about hybrid meetings. The people I speak to at area committees—the younger people or people with caring responsibilities—they think it's great, and I do as well. I'm a clerk to the council and my council hasn't met on a physical basis for the last three and a half years. The meetings on Zoom that we hold, they are well attended. They're easy to minute; it works very well. 

The problem we have in Wales is that there are many small, rural-based councils that don't have many meeting places to choose from—some of them at the back of village halls or church halls—and they find it very difficult to be able to install the equipment needed to have hybrid meetings. Now, I know the legislation allows for people to come in on a phone, but that, in practice—if you try and chair a meeting with people coming in on a phone, it will not work. And the cost is disproportionate to the size of the precept in many of these councils, and I think that's given a bit of a bad name to the legal requirement to hold meetings where there's multilocation access. Many of the smaller councils are saying, 'Look, if Welsh Government want us to do this, is there some way that we can have some grants to help us with the costs involved?' Fortunately, the Welsh Government have provided funding to One Voice Wales to have a digital support officer, and we'll be recruiting to that shortly, if we find the right candidate. And part of their role will be to provide cost-effective guidance as to how multilocations can be set up properly. 

So, I think, over time, this is going to help a lot of people with caring responsibilities, maybe people with a disability as well, to come into meetings, take a full part, even when they're abroad on holiday. And in my own council, we do have a lady who's in Spain quite a lot—lucky devil—and she comes in from Spain. She doesn't have to miss any meetings. So, from my perspective, if this funding issue could be resolved, then I think it will do the sector a lot of good and maybe encourage people from wider backgrounds to think about coming into the sector. 

09:55

Dwi ddim yn ein gweld ni byth yn mynd ôl, dwi ddim yn meddwl, i fel oeddem ni o'r blaen. Mae cyfarfodydd aml-leoliad, dwi'n gwybod, yn gweithio'n dda iawn yng Ngwynedd. Ac rwyt ti'n adnabod y sir yn iawn, Mabon—os wyt ti yn Nhywyn ac yn gorfod teithio i Gaernarfon, mae'n ddwy awr o siwrnai a dwy awr adref, felly mae medru ymuno'n hybrid o fudd mawr, dwi'n meddwl, mewn sir mor wledig â Gwynedd.

Dwi'n cofio cyn y pandemig, roedd hyn yn rhywbeth roeddem ni eisiau gwneud yng Nghyngor Gwynedd, a dweud y gwir, er mwyn hyrwyddo amrywiaeth a gwahanol mathau o bobl i fod yn gynghorwyr. Dwi'n cofio ar y pryd, roedden nhw fath â, 'O, mae'r gost gymaint. Bydd rhaid i ni gael y dechnoleg yma, bydd rhaid i ni gael hyn, bydd rhaid i ni gael y llall.' Daeth y pandemig, wrth gwrs, ac yn ddigon sydyn, roedd pawb ar Zoom a phawb yn arfer reit handi, felly, dwi ddim yn ein gweld ni byth yn mynd yn ôl i fel oeddem ni.

Dwi'n meddwl bod camau mawr wedi cael eu gwneud hefyd efo'r iaith Gymraeg. Dwi'n cofio ar y cychwyn, hyd yn oed efo'r WLGA, roedd yna rwystr mawr o, 'Sut ydyn ni'n gwneud cyfieithu ar y pryd?' a hyn a'r llall, ond mae'r problemau yna rŵan wedi eu datrys. Dwi'n meddwl, cyn belled bod pobl yn parchu ei gilydd—. Mae'n bwysig bod pobl yn ymuno mewn da amser, fel bod yna ddim problemau technegol ar y cychwyn, a ballu, ond—. Na, dwi ddim ond yn medru ei weld o'n ddatblygiad positif, a dweud y gwir, a fel roeddwn i'n dweud, dwi ddim yn ein gweld ni'n mynd yn ôl i fel oedden ni o'r blaen.

I don't see us ever going back, I don't think, to how we were before. Multilocation meetings, I know, are working very well in Gwynedd. And you know the county well, Mabon—if you are in Tywyn and you have to travel to Caernarfon, it's two hours of a journey and two hours home, so being able to join in a hybrid format is of great benefit in a county as rural as Gwynedd.

I remember, before the pandemic, this was something that we wanted to do in Gwynedd Council in order to promote diversity and different types of people to become councillors. I remember at the time, they were like, 'Oh, the cost is so much. We'll have to have this technology, we'll have to have this, that and the other.' The pandemic arrived, of course, and suddenly everybody was on Zoom and everybody got used to it easily, so I don't see us ever going back to how we were.

I think that great steps have been taken in terms of the Welsh language as well. I remember at the beginning, even with the WLGA, it was a barrier regarding, 'How do we do simultaneous interpretation?' and so forth, and those issues have now been resolved. I think, as long as people respect each other—. It's important that people join in plenty of time, so there are no technical problems at the beginning, but—. No, I can only see it as a positive development, really, and as I said, I don't see us going back to how we were before.

Okay, is that all right? If that's the common view, we'll—. Oh, Lis.

Can I just come in? Apart from it being law, currently, that we have multilocation meetings—and I am totally supportive of that—I think there are a couple of things that I'd bring in. We talked about disability earlier; it's been a huge boost to some of our members who've got disabilities, particularly those with hearing impairment, who find a noisy council chamber quite difficult. So, currently, we are working to find a solution for them in terms of being able to come into the building, but at the moment, it's their choice that they join from home.

But I go back to the thing about abuse and behaviours, et cetera. It is much easier to call out poor behaviour in multilocation meetings. Our meetings are recorded, and so, whereas before, it was quite an adversarial process to have to make a complaint, now it can be flagged up: 'Could you look at the section from 1 minute-whatever to 3 minutes-whatever?' And the monitoring officer and the chair of standards will review that, and if necessary, have a word with members. It is making a difference. So, I think that, having those sorts of practices in place is working. But it did come up in discussions with potential candidates, 'Will you be moving away from virtual meetings?' because people with caring responsibilities or just difficult jobs to juggle, because it means you can finish work at 5 o'clock and clock on at five past five into a meeting, rather than having to drive for an hour before you get there, so it has meant that people can juggle busy lifestyles. The ability for us to say, 'No, it's now in legislation that there will be these meetings that you can join virtually, if you wish, going forwards'—that actually sealed the deal, so to speak, with some candidates standing.

Okay, thank you all very much. We'll move on, then, to Joel James. Joel.

Thank you, Chair. Firstly, I've got to apologise, actually. I referred to Councillor Jeffreys by her first name. For some reason, I thought Nia was with the WLGA, not the deputy leader, so sorry about that.

But yes, I just wanted to ask about the access to elected office fund, really. I just wanted to get some ideas about how effective you think it is. Obviously, it's been in place now since the 2021 Senedd election. I must confess that I didn't really know much about it at first; there doesn't seem to be much publicity about it. I was just wondering if that's something that you think as well—obviously, you've mentioned how effective using that fund is—and whether or not it should be expanded, really, to maybe support, for example, female candidates, or those from lower economic backgrounds. I'm just keen to know everyone's thoughts on that, really. Thank you.

10:00

We've had experience of it. One of our candidates at the last election used it and it was absolutely brilliant—a wheelchair user who was able to have an assistant, who even went out and carried leaflets and helped her around the streets, et cetera; she had an electric wheelchair. That was brilliant, because, as a candidate, they were able to participate on an equal basis to all other candidates, and that worked really, really well. And I think that, again, for people where it would be difficult otherwise to stand, then, yes—I think it worked very well for us and it would be good to see it expanded. 

Is everybody happy with that? Yes. Okay. Well, finally, then—

Councillor Burnett, you mentioned the candidate who made use of that fund. Do you know how they found out about it?

As a council, we provide a lot of information on the website about support services, et cetera, and I think it was through those routes. I don't think it was something that was flagged up politically. But they were able to access it. 

Okay, Joel? Yes. We'll move on, then, to Jayne Bryant. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd, and good morning. Thank you for your answers so far this morning, it's really good that you're here. I just want to talk about mentoring and training, really. You've touched on some examples of where you've been mentoring within the local authority at the moment, and I think there's two issues, aren't there—there's retention of councillors, and supporting them to become leaders, whether that's a cabinet member or a deputy or a leader, but there's also a way to try to attract people to stand for political positions, and, I think, that can't really be done right at the end. I think that it's not just down to local authority members; it's political parties as well.

I realise you don't have all that, but do you think those mentoring programmes at the moment are effective, and are targeted well enough, and also, what can you and other local authority members do to encourage the next lot of councillors to put their names forward? It's a long time before the next election, but I think the work has got to start now to make sure that with those individuals, whether they hope to stand as independents, or within a political party, that work is started now, rather than right at the end. 

I think you're totally right; it's an ongoing discussion. I think most of us as political representatives spend as much time talking to people within our communities, talking to people within our parties, giving reports back, explaining things to people, as we do doing the day job. I think a big part of it is that we should be discussing not only our decisions, but the background, the policy to it, so that people have a wider understanding and see where they fit into those discussions. I think there was a comment earlier about, 'If you can't see it, how can you be it?' So, there is an expectation on all our elected members to be out and about, and be visible, both within their party, but also within their communities. And so, by our behaviours— 

Is that enough, though? Because if we're still not seeing that move in diversity, is it enough to just be out and about and to do those reports? Do you think there should be something a bit more formal about trying to encourage people to stand—each person having a responsibility, almost, to try to bring somebody through? Is it working? We're seeing that some of that diversity is really good, and what the Vale has done and Monmouthshire council have done through their own work is really good, but is that enough to ensure that we do get more diversity?

10:05

Dwi ddim yn meddwl bod hynny'n ddigon ar ei ben ei hun, nac ydy? Mae'n gorfod bod yn rhan o becyn o bethau, yn union fel roedd Lis yn dweud. Rydyn ni wedi sôn am yr hybrid, y ffynd roeddech chi'n sôn amdano yn gynharach, rydyn ni wedi cyffwrdd ar gwotâu, rydyn ni'n sôn am newid strwythurol. Dwi'n ofni, weithiau, bod merched ym Mhorthmadog yn croesi'r stryd pan maen nhw'n gweld fi’n dod achos maen nhw'n gwybod dwi'n mynd i swnian arnyn nhw, 'Ydych chi wedi meddwl am fod yn gynghorydd tref?' So, dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni i gyd yn teimlo'r cyfrifoldeb mawr yma ac eisiau dod â phobl yn eu blaenau a bod yn rhyw fath o fodel rôl, am wn i. Ond na, dwi yn bendant wedi cael profiad y ddwy ffordd. Dwi wedi cael fy mentora fy hun, a dwi wedi rili gwerthfawrogi hynny, a dwi'n dal yn troi at y person yna pan mae angen. Buaswn i'n licio meddwl, ddim yn ffurfiol, ond fy mod i wedi cael rhyw rôl fach yn mentora neu o leiaf hyrwyddo merched a phobl o'r grwpiau amrywiol yma i ddod yn eu blaen. Ond, na, dydy o ddim yn ddigon jest ar ei ben ei hun, o bell ffordd, dwi ddim yn meddwl.

I don't think it's enough on its own, is it? It has to be part of a package of measures, exactly as Lis was saying. We've mentioned the hybrid working, the fund that you were talking about earlier, we've touched on quotas, we're talking about structural change. I'm afraid, sometimes, that women in Porthmadog cross the road when they see me coming because they know I'm going to ask them, 'Have you thought of being a town councillor?' and so forth. I think we're all feeling this great responsibility and wanting to bring people forward and be a role model, I suppose. Definitely, I've had experience in both ways. I've been mentored myself, and I've really appreciated that, and I still turn to that person when there's a need. And I'd like to think, not formally, but that I've had some small role in mentoring or at least promoting women and people from these diverse groups to come forward. But no, it's not enough just on its own.

I know I had an important question around abuse, because you touched on that, and I realise, perhaps, we could write with some further points on the abuse, because that is a really serious issue, I think. I realise you've touched on it, but perhaps it's worth putting it in writing, if you're happy, Chair.

Yes, okay, Jayne, I appreciate that. Thank you very much, because, unfortunately, we're right up and beyond our time constraints, I'm afraid, for this particular session. But we will contact you with some further points. And if you want to add anything to any of the answers you've given to committee on any of the matters discussed or anything else, please feel free to do so, because we're conscious that we're always constrained by time and there's never enough time, unfortunately. But thank you very much for giving evidence to the committee today, and you will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr. Thanks very much. Committee will break briefly for just five minutes. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:08 a 10:14.

The meeting adjourned between 10:08 and 10:14.

10:10
3. Amrywiaeth mewn Llywodraeth Leol - Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 2
3. Diversity in Local Government - Evidence Session 2

We've reached item 3 on the agenda today, and our second evidence session. I'm very pleased to welcome, joining us here at the Senedd, Jess Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, and her colleague Dr Nia Thomas, who deals with research and campaigns, and, joining us virtually, Dr Stefanie Reher of the University of Strathclyde. Welcome to you all. Perhaps I might begin with some initial questions, and firstly, whether there is sufficient progress in improving the diversity of candidates and elected councillors in Wales. 

10:15

First of all, thanks for having us today. It's really great to be here. The best data we have—we can come on to data later, I'm sure, but it's heavily caveated—suggests that the percentage of female candidates rose from 29.7 per cent in 2017 to 33.6 per cent in 2022. In terms of how that related to councillor diversity post election, the number of female councillors has increased from 28 per cent in 2017 to 36 per cent in 2022, but we feel that that indicates a really slow rate of progress, and we're also particularly concerned about representation from people with other protected characteristics, which there is limited data on, but we imagine is quite poor.

If we try and project that level of increase forward, we're not looking at gender parity until roughly the middle of the century for candidates, which is still quite a long time away, really, isn't it?

Just very briefly, my expertise is particularly on disabled people in politics, and looking at the statistics there from the candidate survey, the questions have changed over the years from one survey to another, so it's actually really difficult to draw any conclusions about the development of the representation of disabled people in local councils amongst the candidates. It looks like the representation is below what we would expect based on the general population at the moment, but the question that was asked in the last survey was rather restrictive, so it's quite difficult to really say anything about this. I would say, though, that this survey and generally surveys across the UK amongst candidates, councillors and parliamentarians are quite unique in actually including questions about disability. So, I do welcome that that data is actually available, but at the same time I agree that the data is fairly patchy. Response rates are rather low, so it is quite difficult to really say very much, especially about the smaller numbers of people with protected characteristics.

Thank you very much. The electoral system, then: to what extent do you believe it is preventing progress on diversity?

We think there is a stifling nature of the electoral system in terms of how it's preventing diversity. There's lots of different elements to this. One of them is the number of uncontested seats that we have. There were 74 uncontested seats in Wales in 2022, so that's 6 per cent of the total elected councillors; 97 per cent of these were in single-member wards. So, there's a real, heavy bias towards single-member wards there. There were no uncontested seats, in contrast, in wards with three members or higher. So, if you're looking at bigger wards, you're much, much less likely to have uncontested seats.

There's also a gender bias in those uncontested seats. So, 77 per cent of uncontested seats, with our caveated data—we're doing the best we can with trying to estimate people's gender—were held by male candidates, so 77 per cent male and 23 per cent female. So, there's a real gender bias there. Fifty-six per cent of our wards in Wales are single-member wards, and 35 per cent of all the seats are in single-member wards, so that's quite a high proportion.

Uncontested seats are one of the symptoms of first-past-the-post elections—the system where it's 'winner takes all' and people who are less known might not be willing to stand because they don't think they can get over the threshold of the person who's already there. When you move to a single transferable vote system, like in Scotland, overnight you saw every single uncontested seat eliminated. Since then, they have had a slight creep, but they're still far, far below where Wales is. So, the system change there made a massive difference to uncontested seats, which we can tell in Wales are biased by gender, at least. I would predict that in Wales a move to STV would most likely reduce that level of uncontested seats. And if we look at the legislation, then that's legislating for between three and six councillors if you move to STV at local government. And if we look at the data that we have now on uncontested seats, that would roughly say that, if you took the one- and two-member wards away, you would have no uncontested seats in Wales. So, there's that element of it.

There's also the element of—. We looked at wards where just a single gender of candidates were standing, so I guess this is about voter choice and this is about the type of people who you can vote for. Two hundred and forty-six wards—that's just under a third—had only a single gender of candidate standing, so that was either all male or all female, as estimated with our caveated data, and 83 per cent of these 246 were single-member wards. So, again, it's a heavily biased problem towards single-member wards.

There's also a significant gender bias in that, with over 200 of these wards having only male candidates, versus about 30 having female candidates, so it's, again, the same problem of lack of diversity tipping. So, again, we would predict that a move to STV and multimember wards would make a big difference to this, because 47 per cent of all single-member wards in Wales had a single-gender candidate list. This was just under 16 per cent for two-member wards and reduced again to 7 per cent for three- and four-member wards, with none in the five-member wards. So, again, if you eliminate those one- and two-member wards, based on the candidate lists for 2022, you would reduce heavily the number of single-gender wards down to about 1 per cent in Wales.

10:20

Thanks, Chairman. It's a point I raised in the last evidence session on STV. I can understand the uncontested numbers being probably eliminated at STV, but in terms of, then, the outcomes of that, for example, in Scotland, where STV, as you mentioned, is in place, 35 per cent of councillors in Scotland are women. That percentage is 34 per cent in Wales. So, we see first-past-the-post versus STV, which has been in place for quite a while in Scotland; there doesn't seem to be any recognisable difference in terms of the outcomes of all that, so whilst there may be perhaps more difference in contested seats in terms of trying to drive diversity, it doesn't seem to have that outcome. Is that a fair comment?

I think it's important to remember that no electoral system in itself can guarantee diversity. What you can do is use an electoral system, in combination with positive action, to really drive change. I think that's where, potentially, they haven't gone far enough in Scotland. There hasn't been as much positive action, targets, in local authorities, as we have actually seen in Wales. There seems to have been a much more concerted effort here to increase at least female representation, and that's why we really do feel that, here in Wales, with a combination of changing the electoral system and the positive action we've seen being extended you would see a massive difference.

But it's quite hard to see any difference at all, isn't it? So, you would have thought at least there might be 5 per cent or 10 per cent difference, but 1 per cent, I think, statistically, it is going to be very difficult to argue that's made a discernible difference. So, how can you argue that STV will make that outcome better?

I think the thing you have to consider is that you have to compare Scotland with Scotland on this; you can't take two separate countries and compare them directly necessarily, because they might have started from different starting points. So, while Wales and Scotland might not look so different compared to each other—you know, there are plenty of countries around the world that are progressing really well, especially on gender balance, but they might still look like they have terrible gender balance, but it's because they started at 2 per cent. So, you know, it's that kind of thing.

I think Jess's point about Wales is key, because—. We look at Monmouthshire. In the last elections, that really good commitment that was cross-party, that worked really well. It was technically more of a voluntary quota, I guess, if you want to categorise it, but it worked much more like a legislative gender quota, because everyone was so committed to it, and they have 50:50; they've now gone beyond 50:50. So, you can see how that positive action does make a massive difference, and that is the key. One individual element on its own will not solve the problem. So, it's about those things. If Monmouthshire hadn't done that, then we might have looked at quite a different, a lower, stat for Wales. If the Vale of Glamorgan hadn't been so positive in their action as well—more on a single-party basis there, rather than across the board—. Those things make quite big differences to, then, our overall percentage of female councillors especially.

So, what we take from that, then, in terms of STV? Because I think you said, Jess, didn't you, that STV perhaps might lend itself more to some of the structural requirements that would produce better diversity. Nia was taking about what's been done under first-past-the-post, which has been very effective in Monmouthshire with the right will, which, again, could be structured, I guess, rather than voluntary. So, what do we take from that in terms of whether STV really would move things forward or not? 

10:25

I think where you can get to with STV is removing the uncontested seats in the single-member candidacy wards that Nia talked about earlier, and I think that's where, combined with the positive action, there would be a significant difference. If we did move to at least three-member wards, which would be a requirement under STV, there would be a significant increase in the number of female candidates, just from the 2022 data. It's really difficult to 100 per cent guarantee everything, but all the data we have suggests that that would make a difference. 

Diolch. Mae'r data newydd yna dwi wedi'i glywed gan Nia bore yma yn wirioneddol ddiddorol, a'r awgrym a'r hyn mae Jess newydd ei ddweud rŵan ydy bod wardiau aml-aelod yn well o ran cynrychiolaeth, a bod wardiau aml-aelod efo o leiaf tri aelod yn well fyth. Felly, yr awgrym ydy trio shifftio i hynny. A gaf i ofyn sut mae balansio hynny efo ardaloedd gwledig wedyn, achos buasai ardal aml-aelod efo tri aelod mewn ardaloedd fath â Meirionnydd neu Trefaldwyn yn golygu tiriogaeth anferthol? Rwyt ti'n siarad am ddegau o filltiroedd sgwâr. Sut mae cael y balans yna wedyn? 

Thank you. That new data we heard from Nia today is very, very interesting, and the suggestion from what Jess has just said is that these multimember wards are better in terms of representation, and that multimember wards with at least three members are even better. So, the suggestion is to try to shift to that. How do we then balance that with rural areas, because a multimember area with three members in somewhere like Meirionnydd or Montgomeryshire would mean a huge territory? It would have tens of square miles. How do we get that balance then? 

Ie, mae o yn falans hefyd. 

It is a balance. 

So, yes, if we're looking at the option of three to six members, I think that is—. Even three, sometimes, might create quite big areas, but there are natural communities; there's a role there for the boundary commission to maintain natural communities but keep in mind the size of the ward. Even in places like Gwynedd, if you look at the councillors and the way it's distributed, you don't need to add all the biggest wards together to make a superward that is geographically massive; there's a lot of natural communities there where you would have wards that are smaller that could join with bigger wards. That level of detail is very much for the boundary commission, rather than us, to decide, but having looked at it a little bit and tried to think about—. I come from Ynys Môn, so I can't be an expert on Gwynedd because I'm over the water, but it's—. [Laughter.] You can look at it and you can see, okay, it would increase in size, but you'd have more councillors to do the work, or more councillors sharing the work, rather. But there are lots of ways where those natural communities would not mean that the wards would be as big as if you just pick all the big ones and put them together, if that makes sense. 

Thank you, Chair, and thanks everyone for coming in this morning. I just want to ask you a question that I asked in the previous evidence session, really. I know one of the concerns with STV is, as we mentioned, the creation of multimember districts, and that there's an element that believes that means some people are further detached from their elected representatives. I was just wondering where those with disabilities or lower socioeconomic backgrounds, as they say, come into it, because the concern I have with that then, if we're looking at creating this big geographical area, well, there'll be a difficulty there then in terms of maybe campaigning or even going around to meet the electorate, really, because I know, from my time when I was a councillor, the leaflets I paid for myself, I walked the streets delivering them, I canvassed, but that might not be possible for someone who maybe, say, is in a wheelchair or might have vision impairment, or just can't afford to do it. I just wanted to see what other people's views were on that. 

I'd say there's definitely some significant learning from Scotland on that, which I'm sure Dr Reher will come in on. So, definitely some learning from Scotland in terms of how that would work. There's also a role for an access to elected office fund, I think, to play in this, and particularly—I know we'll come on to this, but—particularly if that fund was extended to cover other candidates with other circumstances. And I think one of the things that we've really seen in Scotland, when we speak to councillors, is a lot of them, even in a larger ward shared with other councillors, will talk about their patch within that, working their existing ward and the people that they have naturally voting for them, and working as teams rather than as an individual with other members of their parties to kind of—. In one area, you say, ‘Put me first on the ballot and then put my colleague second’, in another it might be, ‘Put me second and the other person first.' So, I think there’s a lot of learning that we can take from Scotland on that and I don’t think that has been raised as a significant issue there.

10:30

Yes, it sounds like it's very rare in Scotland for someone to do the whole patch themselves, so in that sense you're not increasing the size in the same way as it looks like it is on paper for each individual candidate canvassing. 

Okay, Joel? Stefanie on this, or any other matters that we've discussed on this range of issues?

Yes, in general I'd definitely agree with what's been said, that multimember districts tend to increase diversity, if we look at it internationally. Obviously, looking just at a couple of elections it's really hard to really draw any robust conclusions from that.

Now, systems like STV, where the voter has more power in determining where candidates are on the list, are generally thought to also be beneficial for under-represented groups, because they incentivise parties to present or nominate more of a range of different candidates that can appeal to different groups of voters. But, of course, that assumes that parties need to be incentivised through that. So, of course, if parties already take initiatives themselves, or even within an entire council, then that obviously could also work without having these systematic, systemic procedural incentives through the electoral system. But I guess that's not something that can really be guaranteed to happen everywhere, so these systemic changes could make that a bit more coherent across different councils as well. 

So, yes, I definitely see the dilemma that was pointed out there between having multimember districts, but then having larger districts as well, and I think some really important points have been raised here already about candidates sharing districts. Definitely, the access to elected office fund can play a huge role in that—quite a bit of money that was claimed. Percentage wise—. Overall, in terms of absolute costs, it's actually not that much, but percentage wise there's a substantial amount that is claimed, for example, for transportation. So, that is something that can be solved if the resources are provided, and, again, it's not actually, in absolute amounts, all that much.

But I think it also needs a rethinking of political culture, how we canvass. So, we see a lot of creative solutions used by disabled candidates to have stationary canvassing stalls in the marketplace rather than going from door to door, having more online campaigns. Of course, it's important that that burden of coming up with these creative solutions isn't just put on candidates themselves, but that there's a wider cultural change in how we adapt the electoral process, the campaigning process and so on, but also how other types of the representation process, which I think we'll come back to later on as well, are rethought to fit the needs of different kinds of people with different backgrounds and different needs to allow them to stand. 

Okay, Stefanie, thank you very much. We'll move on to Carolyn Thomas. 

I don't know if this is so relevant now, is it, if we've gathered lots of data, but to what extent do you think that the local government survey continues to provide robust evidence? It sounds like there was a response of only 40 per cent from different authorities, so does it really capture—?

I think it's possibly worth saying that a lot of the data we've spoken about today is our own data. So, we've collected that. We haven't actually relied on the local government candidate survey data, because we have some quite significant concerns about its uptake in particular. So, a 19 per cent response rate from county councillors this time round isn't great. When we look at our data, we have heavily caveated our data because we have used some assumptions in terms of people's gender to go through that. However, it is very much at odds with what the candidate survey's getting, and we think that that is due to the low response rate from the candidate survey.

I was actually involved in the stakeholder group considering changes to the survey prior to the election, so can kind of speak a little bit about the difficulties with that, because at the moment the requirement for the questions to be on the face of the Act takes a lot of time to actually change those questions, and that leads to delays in the survey going out, and that's why I think the response rate was so low this time. It wasn't in nomination packs, it was digital first and I had a few councillors saying to me, 'Hang on a minute, I haven't had the survey yet—where is it?' So, we've got some quite significant concerns about that. And I think it probably is time now to look at a different way of collecting candidate surveys, probably through a compulsory method, in the absence of enacting section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, looking at what Wales has in its legislative powers to ensure that parties, or I think in a local government case, returning officers, can ensure that this data is collected as part of the fulfilment for nomination packs to ensure candidacy.

10:35

Returning officers can do that, or the legal officer can do it as well, can't they? It's local democracy, I guess—

For example, where our data differs is that the candidate survey, if you just look at county councillors who are elected, it suggests that 40 per cent are female; we're 36 per cent. It doesn't sound like a massive difference, but that does mean that it is in numbers of individual people writing things down. And so, we do think that there's potentially a bias in who those 19 per cent of people are who are filling out surveys. And if that spreads across other protected characteristics, where there are far fewer people, then that can sway the data a lot more. So, it's important for us to have that full data set so that we know the exact picture. Because, we're talking today about whether diversity has improved, but how can we ever really measure if it's improved if we don't have the full data set to be able to match?

And whether data collection on the candidate's or elected member's protected characteristics is sufficient at present, but you said you helped to form the application, or the survey.

Yes, I was involved in the question changes, essentially. So, I think there was recognition from Government that the questions in the previous survey were maybe a bit outdated now. So, for example, the 'indicating gender' question didn't include a 'non-binary' option. So, there was just some updating that needed to be done there.

Okay, and what do you think about the question earlier? I don't know if you heard, but it was on different socioeconomic backgrounds as well and experience of life, basically. I don't know if you can capture that and include that in the future.

I think that one thing that hasn't been done to date, as far as I'm aware, is actually engaging candidates on the survey and the design of that survey and thinking about what would be useful, from their view, to get across. And I think putting candidates and political parties, maybe, at the core and starting this discussion a lot earlier would help, I think, improve the questions in the survey, and working with disability organisations and just ensuring that those questions are much more robust and reflective of 2023.

Thank you, Carolyn. Stefanie, did you want to add anything to what you said earlier?

Yes, just to very briefly add that I completely agree that the response rate needs to go up in order for us to be able to really draw any conclusions, especially about the smaller minoritised groups—groups with protected characteristics and also intersectional groups, right? So, if we see, for example, say, disabled candidates and elected members are increasing, but they're all from a particular socioeconomic strata, then that would tell us more about the barriers that exist, but, for that, obviously, these groups then become smaller and smaller, so, it becomes more and more important to really have complete data on this. Are we talking more about the candidates' survey and how to potentially improve that data later on, or—?

Yes. I mean, what's really important as well is to get data on candidates, obviously, and then see where there are potential inequalities and biases in terms of who then gets elected, but also who actually stands for office and gets nominated as a candidate in the first place, right? So, it's really important also to get data on people who stood for nomination, or who considered standing for office and then decided not to because of various barriers. So, it is also really important, in addition to the candidate data, to get at that data as well, and that's obviously really difficult, right? And I think that's where parties need to be involved also to get data from the start of the process, potentially party member data, to the end of the process to see where the bottlenecks are, and where the points are where potentially certain groups are being left out and aren't progressing into elected office. 

10:40

Okay, Stefanie. Thank you very much. Thank you, Carolyn. 

[Inaudible.] So, did the questionnaires include a bit at the bottom where you could actually put any extra information—whether you've got caring responsibilities, I don't know if that was included, or anything like that?

Caring responsibilities was included. 

It was included. And, then, was there space so that they could just, if there's—? No. It was a bit prescriptive, was it?  

I don't recall, but I don't think so. 

Thanks, Chairman. Just to come off the back of the data piece, I was always told that you always measure what's important and, therefore, the reverse is true—you know it was important because it was being measured. The challenge that I provided to the WLGA before was, as an organisation, are they taking this issue seriously. And I think some of the reflections on the data or lack of data coming through perhaps shows that there's more work to be done. Perhaps it's a reflection of how important this issue is if they're not measuring it, in a way. And I think comments made previously as well about the inconsistency of questioning from one survey to the next is not helpful to be able to measure things appropriately. But that's just a comment from me. 

My question—. You've touched on the other areas of representation that aren't perhaps receiving the attention that they need, so, for example, candidates from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. We're seeing those numbers not reflecting at all the population here in Wales. I was just wondering what you think might need to change to improve some of those numbers in that area in particular.

Overall, I think we lack the data on the number of candidates from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds standing for local elections. We'd imagine it's quite low. We are concerned about the data in the candidate survey. We wouldn't particularly rely on that. The WLGA reported, prior to the 2022 local elections, that only 1.8 per cent of councillors were from black or minority ethnic backgrounds. So, that's obviously particularly concerning and well below the Welsh population, which is 4.7 per cent. So, firstly, I think we do need to have that comprehensive data collection or monitoring in place. I think that is the first step to being able to assess where the problems are. As Stefanie pointed out, definitely with an intersectional lens is really helpful, because we actually need to really drill down on this and see where particular barriers are in place.

We'd also say that there's no silver bullet for improving representation, but parties have a massive role in improving representation of people from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. Candidate selection is key, and we've seen in Wales examples, particularly with Senedd elections, of parties being really pragmatic in their candidate selection, ensuring that there's an increase in the number of women elected, for example. We believe that's a really good road map to follow for increasing other areas of representation.

We're also concerned about wider barriers. The Electoral Commission found that 40 per cent of candidates in the 2022 local elections experienced intimidation. We don't have that data broken down demographically, but we would imagine that that does put a lot of people off from standing for elected office. That's a much harder thing to grapple, but things like a code of conduct, parties working together to try and tackle that, could go a long way. We saw the Minister confirming in Plenary yesterday that there is code of conduct training being developed, for example, and I think addressing that political culture, in combination with parties being much more proactive about improving representation, is probably a good place to start.  

Yes. Thanks. Okay. I can't see anybody else wanting to come in, Chair.  

I don't know. Stefanie, did you want to add anything to what's been said? 

I don't have very much to add. I agree that party action there is definitely necessary, and it's important to think about when groups—. Focusing on certain protected characteristics and how to improve their representation, then also applying that, or looking at how that can be applied to other groups as well, so that it can be a holistic approach.  

Thanks, Chairman. Thank you for those responses. Just in terms of other thoughts in this space, it's been discussed about the inclusion of quotas, perhaps, and I wonder where you see that balance right between the things we've seen—as you mentioned Monmouthshire and Vale of Glamorgan, where there's been perhaps a cultural shift there that has enabled better representation versus what might be considered to be quite a blunt tool around quotas. My particular concern, and you'll be able to perhaps address it as well, around quotas is that they may be able to identify one or two protected characteristics and ensure there's better diversity there, but there are a number of protected characteristics that are equally all-important. I'm struggling to understand how quotas will enable all the very important protected characteristics to be included. I'm wondering where you see that balance between the blunt tool of quotas versus the cultural shift we're seen in the local authorities at the moment.

10:45

Monmouthshire and Vale of Glamorgan absolutely have to get credit for what they've done. I think it's a great example of positive action. In Monmouthshire, obviously, we saw cross-party agreement on a target of 50 per cent—that was led by the then leader Councillor Richard John, so huge kudos for the work that they did. I think it massively changed the candidate selection process, it saw a discussion of whether incumbents should stand again and has really changed the political culture there. Prior to that, they actually already had a gender-balanced cabinet, so I think that demonstrates how far increasing representation in your cabinet and your leadership positions then leads into other areas too.

The Vale of Glamorgan obviously is slightly different. That was down to what we can largely see is positive action within the local Labour Party. So, in the Vale of Glamorgan, Welsh Labour hold 25 of the 54 seats, and 72 per cent of those are held by women, so that has brought the average up, essentially, to 50 per cent.

I do agree that quotas are a blunt tool, but I think in the absence of other measures being effective, sometimes they are necessary. The success in increasing the female representation in Monmouthshire and Vale of Glamorgan has demonstrated that positive action can work, but I don't think there's any guarantee that other council areas will necessarily follow suit. Some may look at their success and think, 'This is a great thing to follow next time around.' There's no guarantee of that. So, I think it does take leadership, but also a formal target or quota might be necessary. I do agree that they're a blunt tool, as I've said, but given where we're at at the moment, it's going to take a long time to change.

In terms of balancing quotas for some protected characteristics and not others, I know Women’s Equality Network are in your next evidence session, and they've done quite a lot of work on how many nations use quotas for female representation, but also use intersectional quotas. So, they can ensure that other protected characteristics are increased in representation too. We don't have any data on that, but I think that would be an interesting area to discuss.

Can I just comment on that point in particular? I think you're right, it could be interesting to discuss, because the gender split is generally about 50:50 in Wales, but then, there are around 21 per cent of people in Wales who are disabled, so it would be a very, very fair argument there in particular to say, 'Why shouldn't there be a quota that around 20 per cent of candidates or elected representatives should be disabled?' And lots of other protected characteristics with percentages are important to consider as well and how that feeds through. So, I'd be open to understanding how you would square that off. I'd be really interested—. I can see, sorry, Stefanie's got her hand up as well, Chair.

We asked in interviews with local election candidates and national election candidates at different levels, prospective candidates, about how they felt about quotas. This was across the UK. Actually, most disabled candidates or interviewees were a bit sceptical about quotas. Now, that's in no way representative at all, I wouldn't claim that, but we did hear a lot of scepticism, and I think that's mainly connected to the fact that disabled people are so stigmatised, and that their competence and ability to do the job is often questioned. There was a sense among some interviewees that they felt that, if they were elected through quotas that that might not necessarily fight the stigma as much as if they were elected outside of quotas. Now, again, this is in no way representative, but that's the impression that we got from talking to disabled people.

Some other things that were mentioned much more often and that received a lot more support, and I think you will come on to, were things like financial support through the access to elected office fund, job sharing, remote and hybrid working, general changes in the culture of campaigning and politics more generally.

Okay. Well, thanks very much. Let's move on to job sharing, then, and hybrid working. Mabon ap Gwynfor. 

10:50

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Cyn fy mod i'n mynd at rannu swydd, un peth sydd wedi fy nharo o'r data gwych yma sydd wedi cael ei dderbyn gan yr ERS yw ein bod ni yn y fan yma yn trafod rôl pleidiau gwleidyddol, ond yr un grŵp dydyn ni ddim yn ei gynrychioli ydy annibynwyr, ac mae'r data rydych chi wedi’i ddarparu yn dangos bod y grŵp annibynnol, beth bynnag y mae hynny’n ei olygu, efo tangynrychiolaeth hyd yn oed yn waeth pan ei fod o'n dod i rywedd, heb ddata ar unrhyw beth arall. Felly, mae'n iawn inni edrych ar rôl pleidiau gwleidyddol, ond mae'r annibynwyr yn chwarae rôl bwysig iawn yn narpariaeth llywodraeth leol yng Nghymru, ac wedi bod yn hanesyddol; sut, felly, mae mynd i'r afael â'r elfen annibynnol yna, a sicrhau bod pobl sydd ddim eisiau chwarae rôl bleidiol wleidyddol yn medru rhoi enwau ymlaen a chael y cyfartaledd yna ar draws y bwrdd, pan ei fod o'n dod i'r grŵp annibynnol?

Thank you, Chair. Before I go into job sharing, one thing that has struck me from the great data that has been received from ERS is that we, here, are discussing the role of political parties, but the one group that we don't represent is independents, and the data you have shared showed us that the independents group, whatever that means, has an even worse underrepresentation in terms of gender, without data on anything else. So, it's fine for us to look at the role of political parties, but independents do play an important role in local government provision, and have done historically; so how do we tackle that independent element, and ensure that people who don't wish to play a political party role can put their name forward and have that equality across the board, when it comes to the independents group?

I think, in short, it is really difficult. I don't think there's much that can be done without having formal targets to increase representation with independents, and I do wonder whether making the candidate survey compulsory will offer a bit more information on exactly who is standing as an independent in local elections in Wales. Obviously, independents have really good community links, they're often really great community champions, but I think there's a real difficulty in actually trying to improve gender representation, at the very least; not including other protected characteristics with them. And I do wonder if almost political parties have to overcompensate in local government elections for that, and that is a real challenge for political parties. I don't know if Nia's got anything to add.

It is a challenge. It's hard to think of a way that you could make the independents group act in the way that political parties can, so I think it is always going to be a challenge in that sense. We need to look at examples from other countries and think about what kind of measures might work for independents, what kind of measures might work to, as Jess said, maybe overcompensate for that. We'll just have to live with that in a lot of ways, because there's no way to get rid of independents, and we wouldn't want to, so we have to live with that system where some people aren’t attached to a party.

The only thing I might add is that campaigns like the Be a Councillor campaign obviously aren't partisan, and I think encouraging a wider group of people to stand for any political party or as independents is a good thing, so maybe increasing public awareness campaigns on the role of councillor, or the fact that you don't have to be a member of a political party to stand for a council seat, it can be just someone who is really passionate about their local community, could go some way to addressing that. But I think the effect of that would be quite limited.

Diolch. Felly, mae yna gwestiwn yn y fan yna, onid oes, o ran pam ein bod ni yn y sefyllfa yma, pam fod pobl yn teimlo eu bod nhw'n methu â rhoi eu henwau ymlaen, yn enwedig fel annibynwyr. Mae yna rywbeth inni fynd i'r afael â hi, ond does yna ddim ateb ar hyn o bryd.

Thank you. So, there's a question there about how we are in this situation, why people don't feel like they can put themselves forward, especially as independents. There's something that we should tackle, but there is no solution at the moment.

I would potentially put an argument there towards the electoral system. Because independents are often very local people with strong community links, who a lot of times get a large percentage of the vote share, if you're in a single-member ward, why would you stand against an independent who has a very large share of the vote? So, again, that issue of single-member wards, that issue of uncontested seats, are symptoms of the voting system that we currently have, and potentially other things that moving councils to STV could help solve in terms of having more positions open within a ward, so that you would allow other independents to come through and maybe get voted in as well, and have that chance.

Diolch. Os caf i fynd ymlaen i'r cwestiwn ar rannu swyddi, beth ydych chi'n meddwl yw rhinweddau rhannu swyddi? Ydych chi'n meddwl ei fod yn rhywbeth buddiol y dylid ei hyrwyddo yn fwy? Ydy o'n drefn sydd yn gweithio ar hyn o bryd? A oes gennym ni ddata arno fo? Beth ydy'ch barn chi ar hynny?

Thank you. If I can go on to the question on job sharing, what do you think are the qualities of job sharing? Do you think that it's something that's beneficial and should be promoted further? Is it a system that currently works? Do we have data on this? What's your opinion on that?

We've been through and collated some data on job sharing currently, so we know there was job sharing in Swansea council in the last term. It does appear that that idea of job sharing in cabinet positions has spread to a few other councils. Monmouthshire County Council had its first-ever job share in this term between two individuals, although that now has ceased—it was in place for a year, but one of the cabinet members in the job share has now stood down from the cabinet. We also saw Powys have its first job share, and again, another job share in Swansea. I'd be happy to share more data on which positions those exactly were and who they were. So, we were three job shares across Wales, now we're down to two, so, we're looking at 1.6 per cent of the 190 cabinet positions when it was three, and then this year, 1.1 per cent. So, while we can see that it's potentially spreading geographically slightly, it's still a very, very minority number of cabinet positions that are in job share.

10:55

Nia, just on that point, I know Jayne Bryant and I, both as Newport representatives, know that there's a cabinet job share at Newport City Council, and we wonder whether—

It's really hard to get the data. One of the things is that, for example, with Monmouthshire now, if you looked at the website, you would never have known that there was a job share until you find a newspaper article about it, because cabinets are not archived ever. You have to go and look at things and then as soon as they change, it's like they never existed. So, I think that's another thing, again, being someone who loves a bit of data—we need to collect this data so that we can make sure that we're learning from it. So, yes, it sounds like it's a little bit wider than what my delvings first indicated, but that would still put it at under 2 per cent easily of—

The deputy leader of Flintshire is a job share between a male and a female.

But in terms of total cabinet positions across Wales, we're still looking at not that many. I think it's really great that it's moved further geographically—that's really nice to see. Hopefully that's something that can be built on, but I think it needs lots of promotion, because it's definitely not the status quo, is it? And we need to have people who are promoting it, who are trying to push it towards that status quo, so that asking to do a cabinet position as a job share or not as a job share is equal in terms of how it's perceived or how it's seen.

Dwi'n awyddus i ddilyn hwnna i fyny, ond dwi hefyd yn awyddus i glywed beth sydd gan Stefanie i’w ddweud ar job share, achos fe wnaeth hi gyffwrdd ar hyn ynghynt yng nghyd-destun pobl ag anableddau. Felly, os cawn ni farn Stefanie.

I am very keen to follow up on that, but I'm also keen to hear what Stefanie has to say on job share, because she did touch on this earlier in the context of people with disabilities. So, does Stefanie have an opinion on that?

From our interviews and observing different groups of disabled people who are considering standing for office or are elected representatives, that's one of the things that always comes up, even unprompted. So, that seems to be one of the things that could really help disabled people get into elected office, especially, of course, people with energy-limiting conditions. But also, disabled people are likely to also be a carer, for instance, for other disabled people. And there, we have that link to other people with caring responsibilities for whom job sharing is something that could eliminate that barrier of the time that needs to be spent in that full-time job whilst also having other responsibilities. I'm sure that it would be welcomed by other groups of people as well, but I think it's specifically disabled people who have been pushing for that, and people with caring responsibilities, especially women as well.

Gaf i ofyn i ddilyn i fyny—? Roeddech chi'n sôn fod Casnewydd, Sir Fynwy, Fflint, hwyrach, Abertawe—bod yna rhyw bedwar neu bum enghraifft o rannu swydd cabinet. Oes yna unrhyw fath o astudiaeth wedi cael ei wneud o ran siarad efo'r unigolion ynglŷn ag a oedd o wedi gweithio, a siarad efo'r cabinet, efo arweinwyr cyngor i weld os oedd o wedi gweithio? Oes gennym ni rhyw fath o ymchwiliad?

Could I ask, following up on that—? You mentioned Newport, Monmouthshire, Flintshire, Swansea—that there are about four or five examples of job sharing at cabinet level. Has any kind of study been done, talking to those individuals about whether it worked, and talking to the cabinet, with council leaders, to see if it had worked? Do we have any kind of inquiry into that?

We've got really limited data on that, but we did a report in 2017 called 'New Voices', where we used a combination of research approaches that included interviewing members of elected office. And one of the people who we interviewed was a councillor who was in a job share in Swansea and just talked about the advantages that that had given her. I think in particular she raised that it was easier in terms of caring responsibilities—it was just easier to balance other work as well. So, it's really limited, almost anecdotal, data, but we can certainly send you that interview if that would be of use.

Diolch, dwi'n meddwl y byddem yn gwerthfawrogi hynny. 

Thank you, I think we would appreciate that.

If you could send that to the committee, that would be great.

I think, given the uptake in terms of different geographic areas now, it would be worth while also maybe doing a bit of research in terms of asking those people about how the job shares are working for them, because it's great to hear that that individual found it really useful, but it's always good to have more data points to make sure that we're getting the full picture. I'm sure everyone will find it very useful, but it's a good time now to try and get some more data on it, I think.

11:00

Ac yn yr un modd efo Stefanie. Tra ein bod ni'n clywed bod pobl anabl yn awyddus i gael hyn, oes yna dystiolaeth gennym ni o bobl anabl sydd wedi cael rhannu swydd, lle bynnag y bo, sydd yn dangos ei fod o wedi gweithio, mewn cyd-destun aelod etholedig llywodraeth leol?

And similarly with Stefanie. While we are hearing that people with disabilities are keen to have this, is there evidence of disabled people who have job shared, wherever they are, that shows that it has worked in local government in terms of elected members?

I'm not aware of any systematic evidence. I'm not aware of that model existing anywhere outside the UK either. But it's not something that I've looked into specifically. Generally, we know that the UK, Wales, Scotland and so on is quite ahead of most of the rest of the world, actually, when it comes to thinking about how disabled people can be better included in the political process. My hunch would be that, probably, especially when it comes to disabled members of councils and parliaments, there isn't actually very much experience, but again, I haven't looked into any of that evidence. Often, it is, like what was said before, hard to actually find that information, so maybe commissioning some research, collecting evidence and interviewing people, talking to people who have that experience and thinking through the different possibilities—. Because, of course, sharing the job of an elected member of a council or parliament comes with different challenges than with sharing an executive's job, amongst people who are elected as a sole, full-time elected representative, in terms of campaigning and so on, and how they would be on the ballot paper. That obviously comes with different challenges, but I think it's something that can definitely be addressed and overcome.

Gadeirydd, mae gen i gwestiwn ar weithio hybrid. Ydych chi am i fi ei ofyn o rŵan, yntau gofyn am dystiolaeth ysgrifenedig?

Chair, I do have a question on hybrid working. Do you want me to ask it now, or ask for written evidence?

Diolch. Dwi jest eisiau mynd ar ôl hynny yn sydyn. Rydyn ni'n gwybod ers COVID fod gweithio hybrid wedi dod i mewn i rym. Ydych chi'n meddwl ei fod o'n drefn sydd yn gweithio, sydd yn ei wneud o'n fwy democrataidd ac yn ei wneud o'n decach ac yn rhoi mwy o gyfleon i bobl, inni gael amrywiaeth o bobl mewn safleoedd etholedig? Ydy'r system hybrid yn gweithio pan fo'n dod i lywodraeth leol?

Thank you. I just wanted to go after that quickly. We know since COVID that hybrid working has come into force. Do you think that the system works and makes it more democratic, makes it fairer and offers more opportunities for people to have that diversity of people in elected positions? Does the hybrid working system work in local government?

We don't have any data or policy on this particularly. We'd imagine that it would, but we haven't got anything to back that up. I don't know if Stefanie would have anything to offer.

I don't know of any actual systematic evidence, but again this is something that is brought up again and again by disabled representatives and aspiring representatives, people with caring responsibilities, and women in particular. There is a lot of frustration in the disabled community about the progress that was made, necessarily, during COVID, in terms of hybrid working in politics and beyond, and where we see a step back, back to 'normal' in a lot of spaces. There is a lot of frustration with the tendency to not really see the benefits that brought for a lot of people who have difficulty getting out of the house, or whose ability to be mobile varies from day to day, who need more breaks at work during the work day, who want more flexible hours and so on. There's a flexibility that brings to particular groups of people and their ability to participate in ways that they weren't able to before, or where participating before had really sometimes negative consequences on their health. So, there is a lot of frustration, and a really, really big demand for thinking about maintaining some of the remote working possibilities and obviously developing that further as well, because it's important as well that that doesn't create any inequality between people who are there in person and those who are there remotely on a more permanent basis. So, again, there may be a bit of a change in culture necessary.

11:05

Thank you, Chair. Obviously, I wanted to ask about the access to the elected office fund, but I just wanted to touch upon something about hybrid working. I think it's a mixed bag from my own personal experience, because, on the one hand, as Stefanie said, it allows people who might not be able to attend a meeting in person, such as I'm doing today, but what I'm conscious of is, for example now, when we as a committee break for lunch, or grab a coffee at break, whatever, we all go together into the next room to have a chat and a catch-up, whereas, at the moment, I'm just going to be sat here on my own twiddling my thumbs, as they say. And I think we've got to be careful there, because there have been a lot of studies on social isolation, especially those with a disability, who lose out that contact, then, from a workplace environment, because a lot of their social interactions happen in work, especially if, maybe, you're coming to retirement age where your friendship circle might be your work colleagues. And then, that's an issue that I think we've got to be careful about. 

But turning to access to the elected office fund, I know it's been mentioned quite a few times. I know in England and Scotland, it's been there for quite some time, but in Wales, it's only been there since, I think, 2021, since the Senedd elections. And I think there have only been about 20 or 21 applications to it since then, and only six have been successful, and I think they've all been to community councils. And I just wanted to get an idea about how widespread the knowledge is about that fund in a Wales context, and whether or not it's basically doing the job, and whether or not it should be expanded then, because we talked about encouraging more women into elected roles—whether or not that should be expanded or a similar fund for that—and I know I mentioned it earlier but people from poorer economic backgrounds, for want of a better phrase. I'm just keen to get people's views on that. 

Yes, so my insights are primarily from the EnAble fund in England, because together with Professor Elizabeth Evans, I wrote a report on that; we did an evaluation of the fund. What we can say in general is that the fund was really, really welcome by everyone who applied for it. The large majority of people—I think around 90 per cent—said that it was really helpful. Around 40 per cent said that it would have been really difficult for them to actually stand for office had it not been for the fund. So, just based on the evidence, it is something that is seen as extremely helpful by disabled people. 

Regarding the information, I can't really judge that in the case of Wales, but it is really important that that information is spread widely. And here, there might be an issue with independent candidates, or prospective candidates as well, because a lot of information is passed through parties—which is obviously really important that they're kind of involved and invested in that as well—but we have found that it can be a little bit more difficult to reach independents.

Another issue could be the timing of the planning around the fund. So, it's really important to start planning early on, to give people enough time to actually consider standing for office. It's quite unlikely that, if it comes in quite late, someone will then actually change their mind about standing for office or not. And also to lower the burden of going through the application process, which, of course, the administrators are trying to make as simple as possible. But it also needs to be fair, there needs to be accountability, there needs to be co-ordination between the administrator of the fund, and, then, the Government.

So, it can be a bit of a burdensome process, and, I think, there, it's really important to get insights and experience from other places as well, like Scotland, for example, who have been running it kind of more consistently, and have a lot of experience in that—things like procurement and getting quotes for things, paying in advance. All of these things place additional burdens, and could  potentially be made easier. That said, again, I don't know exactly how it worked in Wales, but, yes, providing that information publicly and spreading it, raising awareness, is definitely really important. And from everything we found around this research, we can really just say that it is very, very welcomed. And even if it's not that many people actually applying for it, if it helps even a few people getting into office, considering also the total costs involved, you might argue that that's worth it, and, hopefully, it will be picked up even more so in the future.

11:10

Did either Jess or Nia want to add anything on this?

I think, in terms of the promotion and stuff, we haven't got much to say on that. I think the people in the next session will be well placed to answer that section of the question. But, do you want us to talk about how it might be increased now as well?

Okay. Also, I think Stefanie's point about even helping a few people is really important, because that then means that people see themselves represented, and that is a snowball effect then, hopefully, to more people standing, so we can't discount that, as well as it's important to go forward.

So, we obviously know that there are certain groups that, potentially, face barriers to standing. We were very pleased to see the commitment from the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution around, hopefully, legislating to keep this access to elected office fund. I think the continuity of that is really, really important, and we would like to see it expanded as well to serve other under-represented groups and assist towards costs for the specific barriers that each of those groups face. So, including, but not limited to perhaps people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, people from the LGBTQ+ community, people who have caring responsibilities, people who are on low incomes. There are lots of different people who will probably face quite a few barriers to standing for election. In fact, there's probably a very small group of people who don't face barriers to standing for election, and we should look at who they are and then work out who everyone else, almost. So, I think there's a big scope to try and increase the scope of that access to elected office fund as well. But what it's doing so far seems like it's very good work.

And, again, coming back to data, we need to know the candidate diversity to help with understanding those barriers and who is standing and who isn't standing and who's then being elected to really help bolster the arguments, I guess, for who else needs to be included in the access to elected office fund.

Okay. Thank you very much. We've only got very few minutes left, I'm afraid, so we will, briefly, I'm afraid, Jayne, move on to mentoring, and maybe write further—

Yes, absolutely. And I think, Jess, the one we'll write to you about is around abuse, and you talked about that, and touched on a bit of the cultural issues. So, we can write on that, because it is a really important subject.

Just around the mentoring schemes, really, that exist already, and how effective you think those schemes are and are they really targeted at those different under-represented groups—. As I say, I look at things and think, 'There are the councillors who are already there, all those in our local authorities who are trying to—and it's really important to retain that number, and how well we do to retain the diversity that we do have in local authorities'. But we do know that, if we take our foot off the gas, then that, sadly, goes backwards, unfortunately. But, also, we need to think about how we can attract those people into the positions as well as retaining. So, just how you think those mentoring schemes work and perhaps could work in the future.

So, we don't have a massive amount of data on this, but we have seen the establishment of the Equal Power Equal Voice mentoring scheme. I have been a mentor in that for the past two years now as a mentor with Women's Equality Network when they had their own scheme before that. And I think actually seeing this collaboration between organisations has been really positive. I was at an event in the Pierhead a few months ago, and the diversity in that group is really good to see.

We would really be keen to see data in terms of how many people from those schemes have then gone on to stand for elected office. And, actually, that is one part of it, but also mentoring people just to have a greater awareness of political life. They may be in other roles, in education or in other areas of work, and actually taking these lessons from that is a really good thing, generally. So, we're massively supportive of mentoring schemes, and really keen to see the data in terms of the actual impact of those in increasing representation in local and Senedd elections, and maybe even for the general election.

Thanks for that, Jess. Stefanie, did you want to add anything?

Yes. Just very briefly. I don't have any evidence or data or particular insights about the schemes in Wales. I will just briefly say that, internationally, it's something that's being picked up more and more, and that's seen as very promising. And, I think, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data will be really important because it will be difficult, even if we collect the quantitative data, to really get at the actual effect of those different schemes, just methodologically. It's really important also to collect interview data and see how people feel about the schemes, how useful they find them, what could be improved, and so on.

11:15