Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus - Y Bumed Senedd

Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Senedd


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dai Lloyd Yn dirprwyo ar ran Adam Price
Substitute for Adam Price
Gareth Bennett
Jenny Rathbone
Mohammad Asghar
Nick Ramsay Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Vikki Howells

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Adrian Crompton Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru
Auditor General for Wales
Claire Germain Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Trawsnewid a Phartneriaethau Llywodraeth Leol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Local Government Transformation and Partnerships, Welsh Government
Deryck Evans Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Wales Audit Office
Matthew Mortlock Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Wales Audit Office
Reg Kilpatrick Cyfarwyddwr Llywodraeth Lleol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Local Government, Welsh Government
Tracey Burke Cyfarwyddwr Cyffredinol, Grŵp Addysg a Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director General, Education and Public Services Group, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Claire Griffiths Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Fay Bowen Clerc

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 13:52.

The public part of the meeting began at 13:52.

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

Welcome to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. I welcome our witnesses as well. As usual, headsets are available for translation and for sound amplification. Please ensure any phones are on silent. In an emergency, follow the ushers. We have received two apologies, from Rhianon Passmore and from Adam Price, and we're delighted to welcome Dai Lloyd to the committee this afternoon, who is substituting for Adam Price. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make? No. Okay.

4. Papurau i'w nodi
4. Papers to note

Item 4, then, and one paper to note, and that's relating to the Welsh Government's relationship with Pinewood. The Welsh Government have written to us regarding the former farmhouse located on the Pinewood Studios site. The Welsh Government is due to provide an update on some of the wider matters surrounding the Pinewood development by the end of December and, at that point, we should have an opportunity to consider the wider performance of the media investment fund and the financial performance and income projections around the studio in early 2020, on receipt of the information they provide. So, are Members happy to note that letter and then take that action? Okay.

5. Llywodraethu a rheolaeth ariannol mewn cynghorau cymuned: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda Llywodraeth Cymru
5. Financial management and governance in community councils: Evidence session with the Welsh Government

Item 5 and financial management and governance in community councils. This is a follow-on from some work done by the Wales Audit Office, and we have our evidence session with the Welsh Government. Can I welcome our witnesses? Would you like to give your name and position for the Record of Proceedings?

Thank you. Prynhawn da. Good afternoon, Chair and Members. I'm Tracey Burke, I'm the director general for education and public services.

Good afternoon. I'm Reg Kilpatrick. I'm the director of the local government department.

And I'm Claire Germain. I'm deputy director for local government partnerships and transformation.

Great. Thanks for being with us. We've got a number of questions for you. I'll kick off with the first few questions. What is the Welsh Government's perspective on the overall state of the community and town council sector at present, given the issues raised by the Auditor General for Wales's national reports and the recent public interest reports?

That's a broad place to start, I think. 

A very broad question. Mine usually are to start with. 

Well, it's good, because I suppose it gives us an opportunity to talk a bit about the sector, which I think everybody will agree is an extremely varied and variable sector. It ranges in terms of size. So, we have some very small community and town councils—so, population-wise, representing probably fewer than 500 people—to some much larger. I think about a third represent about 500 people and I think about 50 or more represent about 10,000. I think the biggest, actually, is Barry, which is quite near me. That's 50,000 people. So, they're very, very different in terms of scale, and that's matched, then, by their expenditure. So, some community and town councils have budgets as little as £1,000, but can range up to £1 million. And I think about 40 per cent are under £10,000, so some of them are, as I say, extremely small, and then very varied in terms of the scope. Some town councils and community councils are literally representative, and that's kind of the main thing that they do, whereas others, as we know from our own experience, run a wide range of services, and I think all have their value.

Obviously, today, Chair, we're here to talk about the issues that have been raised from an audit perspective, but I think we do have to remember that there are a lot of positives about community and town councils, a lot of hugely dedicated individuals who give of their time and have massive enthusiasm and commitment for what they want to achieve there. But, unfortunately, that enthusiasm doesn't always turn into very good administration, and I think that's certainly what the auditor general has found through his reports. So, there've been some issues in terms of describing the sector. There have been some issues where there are very serious misuse of funds, financial mismanagement et cetera, but the vast majority are really poor administration, missing deadlines, the wrong people signing the accounts, not having their accounts open to the public to inspect, so there's just very, very poor administration. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that it's a very, very mixed picture.


These issues of poor administration and financial governance, we've been talking about them for quite a while; certainly during a good part of the time that the Assembly has been with us, these have been issues on the agenda. So, why do you think it's taken councils so long to sort this out and get their act together? And moving forward now, what positive action can the Welsh Government take to try and turn this around and get these issues dealt with?

Sure. It's immensely frustrating, disappointing and I think, actually, in my correspondence with the auditor general, troubling, really, that so many—340 qualified audit opinions in the latest report. And that's not new—it's more than there's been. I've looked back to previous auditor general reports a couple of years ago—again, as you say, Chair, very, very similar issues. It's frustrating because they're very common issues that should be able to be easily addressed in terms of not meeting the statutory timetable. There is a set timetable. There's plenty of guidance for people—guidance that we've produced, that the auditor general provides and the representative bodies. But at the end of the day, they are still missing these deadlines and still having poor administration.

Part of that, I think, is down to a point that was raised in the independent panel's report, that a lot of councillors see themselves as being volunteers, really; they don't often see themselves as being elected members, and the clerks that support the councils, many of them are working part-time—some of them, I saw a recent survey result, less than 10 hours a week. They are not preparing properly, not prioritising properly. The auditors aren't there with them onsite demanding bits of paper. Clerks are responding to correspondence or e-mails, and they're just either not prioritising them or not responding to them quickly enough.

So, I think there's just a wide range of issues. As I say, it's frustrating because there's plenty of guidance.

That independent panel you mentioned previously said, and Welsh Ministers agreed, that it was better to retain the councils and enable them, rather than have a total revolution, I suppose, where you start from scratch. Given these ongoing issues, is that still the right way to proceed, and how can the Welsh Government enable these councils to get out of this mess that they seem to be in?

Yes, absolutely. I should also say, Chair, before I answer that, that we don't know if they're the same councils—if it starts with the same cohort of poorly performing councils. I think that there probably are some that are, year on year, failing to meet deadlines, et cetera. But it could be that some are responding to previous audits, recommendations, and then not preparing themselves properly for the next run-up. And I think—. Sorry, the other thing that I would just add is that I think that the auditor general's regime is really fair for community and town councils. It sets out a five-year plan, they know what they will be audited on, and what the themes will be.

But, anyway, back to your question. I think the enabling approach—obviously, that was a recommendation of the panel, and that was the approach that Ministers have adopted, because they felt that councils could move at the right pace of change for them without forcing that, and I think we still hold that view. It's only a year since we published our response, and we still think it's a proportionate and measured way that reflects the variety of the sector that I've described. So, I think it would be premature, really, to suggest that we take another course of action, although, obviously, if Ministers wish to do that, we would. But it's not—. I don't want you to think that it's all very softly, softly, and there's no hard edges to it. There's a range of actions, which I think we've included in our evidence to you, that we're taking, and some quite hard actions in the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill that we published, introduced, last week—so, some new requirements around annual reporting, openness of meetings, those sorts of issues. So, it's not just a big sort of enabling and encouraging—. There are some hard-edged things there.


Could I just add to that, in the sense that we mustn't forget there are some clear duties on town and community councils to do with their own administration and the way they conduct their affairs? But I think—picking up on a point that Tracey made about the capacity of some of the councils, which are run by, potentially, volunteers, or on a few hours a week, I think that we do accept that there is something more that we could possibly do, maybe working with WAO colleagues, about helping the clerks to understand, potentially, what an annual cycle looks like, and to reinforce that through some of our other communications that we have, either through One Voice Wales, or, potentially, directly through our own Welsh Government newsletter. So, it is about—there is something, I think, that we can do around communicating and educating and just reminding, and particularly now that we have really easy-to-use digital channels, with most of them, that should be, I think, quite a step forward.

You said that some clerks are maybe working under 10 hours. But, of course, in lots of situations, those clerks are working for multiple community councils. So, is there a danger in that situation that, if you've got problems in one council, those problems are being spread to others as well, because there's not an independent oversight?

We've seen that in the auditor general's reports, actually, where two councils both had the same clerk, and it was the same failings there. Claire, did you want to say something?

Just to make the same point, that we spotted that in the public interest reports—that, quite often, there's an underlying issue with the clerk in those councils, either a shared clerk or a previous clerk. And the clerk is key in that space.

And, finally from me, One Voice Wales obviously has an important role. You're providing support to One Voice Wales. How much funding is provided currently, and how are you ensuring it delivers value for money?

So, Claire will probably give me the precise level of funding—it's under £100,000 that we provide per year, I think, for grants.

Just under—it's about £93,000, which equates to about a quarter of their income.

So, that's a core grant that we provide. And, actually, just as Claire said, it's a quarter of One Voice Wales's income. The rest of their income comes from their membership fees, and from training and consultancy. But we do provide some additional funding through special projects, and things like that, to One Voice Wales.

And you're confident you're getting value for money from that funding for One Voice Wales?

Yes, I think it is quite good value for money, Chair. We did a review about two—maybe three years ago, I think, looking at—. When was it?

2016, yes—to look at value for money of our activities across the sector, and concluded that One Voice Wales was a good vehicle. It's got very, very good coverage—I think it's 85 per cent of councils are members of One Voice Wales, so it really does cover the vast majority of the sector. So, I think we're confident that it's value for money.


Okay, I'll bring in other Members now. Vikki Howells.

Thank you, Chair. I agree with what you said about the sector being very varied and I've got some questions around that. Firstly, when thinking about the role of the sector, I think it would be fair to say that there are a lot of residents who don't truly understand what they're paying into if they have a town and community council—what they get out of that. Also, I wonder how much members of one particular town and community council might know about best practice in others. So, what practical action is the Welsh Government taking as part of its campaign to actually confirm the role of the sector and to raise awareness of its work too?

So, I agree. Even if I just ask locally about my own town council how many of my neighbours would really know exactly what they were doing and what the money was going towards—because they tend to publicise certain events or something, but you might not see the whole work and role of the council. I was smiling a bit when you said 'campaign', because I noticed in our action plan we've used the word 'campaign' and it always makes me think of some sort of big advertising promotion that we're going to do. I think really what we mean by 'campaign' is a step up in our communications and our messaging about the important role of the sector.

Certainly, we've taken a number of actions there. Ministers have engaged a lot with the sector. They've spoken at the One Voice Wales annual conference and the conference for the Society of Local Council Clerks. The One Voice Wales event I think was in May of this year, which we positioned to set out more clearly the role of the sector and the importance of it. As officials—I have not been meeting with them, but I know Claire and colleagues meet with representatives of the sector, but also with individual councils when required, and also with groups of councils.

So, we put an article in the Society for Local Council Clerks magazine—sorry, it's a lot to get out—and we've also really been encouraging the innovation awards to showcase best practice, really, across the sector. So, that's the work we've been doing so far. We definitely plan to ramp that up to a much more public-facing form of communication, but I think we've all agreed, and I think it was the view of the panel as well, that we need a call to action, really, to do that.

So, we're thinking next year, in the run up to the elections, would be a time to, really, have a much more public-facing campaign, if we want to call it that, to draw people's attention to the work of the council, and actually as part of that hopefully encourage more people to not only engage but perhaps to more actively participate in councils.

If I could add to your point around residents knowing what they get out of their council, our intention is to introduce a requirement for an annual report, and the intention is that the annual report will be raising that transparency of what the council does. They'll be required to set out their activities, their priorities and their work. So, hopefully, that will give their community a much clearer sense of what it is their council's doing.

And could I add something to that? There's also a role about how we can raise the profile of town and community councils within the public sector as a whole. So, they are now on the partnership council, and we have the chair of One Voice Wales there, representing community councils, sitting alongside police and crime commissioners, the NHS, local government. So, in our discussions about, certainly, local government policy and other policy matters, we are seeking the views of town and community councils through that forum, and, of course, involving them in the consultations and decisions that we are taking.

Have there been any instances of setting up any new community or town councils?

Not that I know. I don't know if colleagues know.

Not that we're aware of. It is—. Clearly, town and community councils should be set up from the community. That's where they should grow from and that's where we would expect them to come from. I think it would be completely appropriate for Welsh Government to promote the idea of community councils, but it wouldn't be appropriate for us, I think, to go into communities and begin to encourage the development of those councils. For them to be sustainable, for them to have an impact and to have the engagement that we've been talking about this afternoon, they really do need to come from the communities themselves.

There is scope for it, because, as I say, I think it's about 30 per cent of the country that doesn't have a community or town council, and, actually, in the build up of preparing to come and give evidence today, it's quite interesting looking back historically, because I think it was the Local Government Act 1972 that divided Wales up into communities, but there were no provisions for certain boroughs. So, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Port Talbot and Swansea, I think, didn't have provisions to divide themselves up into communities, and that will explain a little bit why we've got such variation, although obviously there are some community and town councils now. 


So, the 1972 Act divided all of Wales into community areas. So, all of Wales has an area, but only councils that already existed at the time became a council underneath that, and it happened—. I think it's historically become reformed but it tended to be that urban municipal areas didn't have parish councils at that point, therefore didn't have a council ready in place to transfer across. So, all of Wales has a community area, but not all of Wales has a council. 

So, there is, in a sense, scope, but, as I say, it's quite a big endeavour too.  

That's very interesting. It certainly helps to explain the spread of community councils in my area. 

Doesn't it just? Yes, I found it fascinating, really. I'm not quite sure why. I don't know whether anybody's memories go back as far as that, but—. 

Your paper also says that you've been encouraging councils to reflect on what's required locally, in terms of the kind of services that they actually deliver. What has come of that to date? Are there any practical examples you can cite of councils getting involved in different ways in local service delivery? 

Okay. We've been taking some actions. I think the panel's report was really illuminating to show the number of different types of service delivery models that are out there, from service level agreements right through to social enterprises—so, many, many different models there. For a number of years we've been trying to encourage some joint working arrangements and we've been providing some funding for that. We thought it would be particularly attractive to smaller councils, because they'd have an opportunity to come together jointly to deliver some services. But I have to say that hasn't been our finding. There's actually been quite a low take-up of people that want to work on joint arrangements, and, for those of us who know community and town councils, a lot of them are fiercely independent. So, some of them haven't wanted to do that. But also I think some may have mis-seen it as being a bit of a takeover if it was a bigger council interested in delivering those services. So, we've been doing that joint working. 

We're hoping now that the general power of competence, which we're introducing through the local government Bill, will enable councils to explore different delivery mechanisms. That's absolutely key to that. But I think probably it's not really been us leading the way there. I think probably it's the WLGA and One Voice Wales who've led the way, because they have formed a task and finish group to look at the recommendations from the panel report and to look at that inter-relationship working and how services are delivered. So, I'd say they're probably most likely to come out with some different models, really, rather than us. Would that be fair, do you think? Yes, okay.

And I can give examples of some of the—  

Oh, yes, sorry. Please, yes. 

—creative examples. So, what struck me looking at the sector is that in north Wales the Ogwen Partnership has a renewable energy scheme. So, I think, in terms of what kind of services and assets they own, quite a number of them are responsible for playing fields, allotments, cemeteries, notice boards, public toilets, as a kind of common space, but some of the things that catch the eye and are a bit different would be things like the energy scheme, coming together around street lighting in some areas, a kind of collective for street lighting. Down in Solva they have Solva Care, which is a domiciliary care approach, moving into that kind of social space. In a similar kind of space, in Rossett they have a street warden, someone who's been hired to go around to improve their local environment and do some of those very small but really significant changes. And, up in Holyhead, they run a cinema and, in Llanelli, they've got a football stadium. So, you get some real variation in the kind of things that a community council can and does take on for its community.

Fascinating. One final question from me, then. What progress has been made with your thinking around any of the other areas for further consideration set out in your paper to clarify the sector's role?

So, I'd say I think there's quite a lot in our paper. I'm struggling to think what else I haven't covered. 

Yes, I'm trying to think if there's anything from—. I'd have to check to see what I haven't covered, really, from our paper. Anything else? 

I think we've covered pretty much everything. 

I think probably the thing that struck us as quite interesting in that space was about exploring the place-based distinction and what you might do in that space and around, as I say, doing things differently, I think just encouraging that, really. 


And it may be worth just reflecting back on the review, which, I thought, had a useful distinction about the work of the town and community councils as compared with local authorities. So, that notion again, which we've touched on this afternoon, of community councils being place based, I think. And so, if we're looking at what they might do or how they might expand their role, that's a good space in which we can look at further things, whereas local authorities have got much more strategic people-based activities. Although, quite clearly, as Claire said, as we see more and more services being devolved from local authorities to the stronger town and community councils, we may begin to see a blurring of that distinction. So, bringing into being quite focused community care or social care, which might not be available or might not be the right model to be delivered at a local authority level. So, I think there is a lot of potential. We will continue to think about this, we will continue to have discussions with our Minister and through her many contacts with town and community councils. At conferences we'll be having these discussions about what more can we do and, particularly as Tracey said, as the general power of competence comes into being, that gives us a new lens through which we can look at things.

Thanks, Chair. Your report mentions a few innovations, a couple of which we've talked about or have been mentioned today, like the idea of the annual report and the annual public meeting. There's also a proposal to ensure that community reviews are conducted regularly, and also to promote the idea of more people standing for election to community councils. Now, thinking about the community reviews, what are your expectations around the scope and frequency of these?

So, community reviews, I must say I'm not the world expert on these, although, thankfully, I'm joined by people that know quite a bit more than me about them. But I know that the community reviews are—. There are existing powers in the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013 that all local authorities need to do a community review every 10 years and they've got a duty to report to the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales on that. And I know we updated our guidance on that last year, because I remember seeing that about community reviews. Claire, can you say any more? Or Reg, sorry.

If it would help, we're in a slightly strange period at the moment in that, as Tracey said, the local government and democracy Act made it very clear that there should be reviews, and this would be a 10-year programme of reviews, but that would begin with local authority principal county council boundary reviews, i.e. setting up wards. That was very carefully thought through, because those wards would need to be done first, followed by the community and town council reviews, to take into account the coterminousity, potentially, but at least the relationship between the communities and the councillors who would represent them at local authority level.

But as you know, over the last few years, Ministers have been following a number of different approaches around what the shape of our local authorities should look like. So, that 10-year programme was put on hold because we were having quite detailed discussions about whether authorities should be merged or aggregated together, and, essentially, what that means is the 10-year programme of community and town council reviews has not progressed in the way that it was envisaged under the 2013 Act. We are in the process of conducting a five-year review of local authority wards, and when that is complete before the next election, we will then move on to going back to that 10-year review of community and town council borders.

So, the reality at the moment is slightly different to the way that we'd originally prepared the legislation. However, as we note, if a community council wants a review, then it can approach the local authority and ask for one.

And it's worth adding that while there haven't been strategic overarching reviews in each local authority area—although Monmouthshire does have one under way, and it's several years into doing that—local authorities can and do make smaller changes to boundaries in their areas and there have been a number of Orders made in the last few years that have made individual changes to boundaries. What hasn't happened has been the strategic overview of the entire local authority area.


Yes, I understand from Reg's answer, obviously, that it's connected with the local authority changes and there's been a lot of flip-flopping over that over the last few years. What about the issue of the number of people who show an interest in standing for election to community councils? Have you got any thoughts on that and on the diversity of people wanting to stand?

Well, I think that not enough people stand—I think we can see that from the number of uncontested seats that there are. That's not to say that those individuals who've come through that route aren't doing a very, very good job, but I think in a thriving democracy we would all like to see more people contesting those. So, there are not enough people coming forward to stand as councillors.

But, that's only, I suppose, half the issue. There are not enough people who are representative of their communities in terms of their ethnicity and not enough women, not enough young people who are coming forward. I think you will all know that Welsh Ministers are absolutely committed to seeing increased diversity in our public institutions, and I don't think community and town councils are that much different, really. I think all of us have got more work to do on that front.

We've run a programme called Diversity in Democracy, I think it is, and that first phase completed a little while ago to look at how we can increase diversity. We're just about to go into the second phase of that work, I think, Claire. 

And regarding that, it's further than that, it goes across all local government, I suppose, at local authority and community council level, which recognises that the pool of people you're looking to attract is the same pool of people for both tiers. So, it's a single tier, looking holistically at the sector.

There are some really good examples, though. I know of Pontypool, where a youth council was set up by the young people, I think. That engaged people so well and so many young people got involved that, actually, now members of the youth council sit on the community and town council. The reason that I know about it is that one of them is actually on the Youth Parliament here. So, that's somebody who's come into this world, but through active participation in the community and town council. So, there are pockets of really good examples, but if we look at the sector overall, there is still much more work to be done there.

It seems that with social media and digital communication that might be a way of bringing a more diverse group of people into the community council area, because people do go on the internet and look at sites that are promoting local interest issues, so that may be a route the sector could go down. How have you assessed how far the sector has got with the use of social media and other digital mechanisms to engage their communities?

Absolutely, I think it's the way that young people, and, actually, those of us who are not so young now, engage with information and find out what's going on. One of our actions in our areas of action was to conduct a survey of social media use in community and town councils. We developed that over the summer and the survey went out, and I think it was closed a couple of weeks ago. We haven't analysed the results of that yet, but, whatever the emerging findings are from that, our plan is to turn that into some guidance and, hopefully, some best practice examples.

I know some community and town councils live stream their council meetings. I don't know how many people are tuning in for that, but there are people using technology. A lot of the legislation around community and town councils was established in the 1970s, so part of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill's aims is to modernise that around access to information and electronic documents—those kinds of things. So, it's something that we're very, very keen to take forward and focus on. As I say, I think we'd like to put out some best practice guidance some time and certainly by mid next year—just thinking about timescales.


That would probably be good and you could cite what's going on in Pontypool as an example, but of course the problem is getting this stuff rolled out across the whole area, because even with local authorities, there's massive inconsistency in what they broadcast, and if they're not doing it properly, then obviously community and town councils are less likely to.

Even less likely to. I hope that maybe the annual report, the fact that they need to publish that now will be part of the Bill, might raise some more interest for people in what community and town councils are actually doing. But, yes, driving consistency across the sector. As we can see in all of the other issues that the auditor general has picked up in his reports, it will be tough to bring that consistency in that there will always be the leaders, I suppose, and then there will always be those that are very hard to engage.

Yes. Now, have you got any more thoughts on things like the annual report—which we mentioned—and also, in particular, the potential impact of requiring at least one public meeting a year?

Yes. So, with the one public meeting, that's a practice that takes place in England and is not something that we've adopted here. We have been looking at the model in England, but we haven't been able to find any evaluation of how successful that has been.

I think a couple of years. We haven't got a—. I'll check this out, but I think a couple of years.

So, the approach that we've taken is—. We haven't been able to find any evaluation material on that, so the approach that we've taken is to require in the Bill that community and town councils produce and publish an annual report, and that annual report will cover what we would expect to be covered in a public meeting, but will be in a form that people can look at at any time. You don't actually have to get to the meeting. I know, for my sake, it's unlikely that I would get to my town council's public meeting, but I certainly would access the information in my own time in an annual report, and, obviously, the public are completely entitled to attend a community and town council meeting as it is, and we are upping that emphasis on access to meetings in the local government Bill. So, as I say, I think we've tried to introduce a more flexible approach, really, that might work in a more modern world where people will access information when they choose to. Is there anything to add?

Yes. I was just going to say that I think our approach to this has very much been about increasing the accountability and transparency of the council's business, and as Tracey explained, we feel that the annual report will do that and we hope that that will help engage citizens in all sorts of different ways and new citizens who aren't engaging already with the council's business to understand what it's doing. There will potentially be some information about whether the general power of competence has been exercised for those councils who can exercise the general power of competence. So, for the first time, bringing together a set of information in an easily understandable single document. 

Just sticking with this for a moment, how many people know that these meetings are open to the public? Clearly, in a place like Pontypool, probably, it's a larger community and probably that information is known, but there are hundreds of these community councils that are closed institutions, they don't publish an annual report, they never hold a public meeting. What is the point of these organisations?

So, I don't have a figure for how many people would know about this, but I suspect—and probably I'm taking that you do, too, by your question—that many people would not know that they can access and can attend a community and town council meeting, and I think that is exactly why, through the Bill, we want to write that large around access to meetings and the publication of this annual report because we don't think that enough people know that and have enough sight of what their community and town councils are doing with the taxes that are being raised.


And if I could add, Tracey, one of the other provisions in the Bill will be, in some ways, a right to representation. So, we're making it very clear that the public have a right to make a representation at a community council meeting. In most places, the ones that are working well, that happens anyway. But we're looking at an explicit right that the public can make representations about the business of a community council. That's obviously a proportionate right, so it couldn't go against the smooth running of a meeting, but there'll be explicitly a right to engage in the activity of that council's discussions.

Okay. So, in the absence of this Bill, what have been the sticks available to Government to address some of the problems of all these councils that have just been bouncing along the bottom?

Right. So, we don't have a power to sort of intervene in community or town councils. We must remember that they are sovereign bodies; they are democratically elected; they're accountable to their electorate. And in a sense, from that perspective, our relationship with the community and town council is the same as our relationship would be with a local authority, really. So, I think it's fair to say that if a community and town council failed to meet a statutory duty that's a legal duty, then there is a right to legal challenge, as there would be with any public body. There could be a legal challenge.

You say they're democratically elected. How many are actually involved in an election? That's not to say that an individual who's elected unopposed isn't a perfectly excellent individual, but if there is no election, then it's not very democratic—it's just Buggins' turn is operating in a small community.

Well, that's right, yes. Uncontested seats—again, I don't have a statistic on me now. Would we know the number of uncontested seats?

We do, actually.

We do know that, do we?

We can get that data after the election to get some—

We'd be pleased to provide that.

So, the Bill is going to give some teeth to your capacity to raise the game of community and town councils. Could you just tell us what the current Welsh Government thinking is about the eligibility criteria for a general power of competence?

So, that is about raising the game with the general power of competence because we're introducing a number of tests for a council to demonstrate that it itself is competent. So, to have two thirds of its members elected; that it has a qualified clerk; and that it has unqualified audit opinions for the previous two years. Now, we see those as being tests of whether or not a council is competent, I suppose, and eligible to have the general power of competence.

So, that's one of the carrots, but obviously, whilst we're continuing to discuss this, there's some of the excellent examples you've mentioned around Solva Care, around one council taking up a renewable energy scheme, and in the meantime, the vast majority of community councils aren't doing any of this. Adult social care may or may not be fit for purpose in a particular area, and certainly the renewable energy companies who come in from outside really buy these community councils off with a piffling sum, because they simply aren't aware of how to negotiate.

I mean, I think it's certainly not for us to direct or—I mean, we've got no power to do that—what a community council should and shouldn't do for its local community; that is for the local community to decide what services it wants its local council to provide for it. But I agree there will be councils whose eyes haven't been raised, I suppose, or lifted, to see those different opportunities that other councils are undertaking. And also, as you say, it may not have the wherewithal, the experience or whatever to do that.

One Voice Wales provides some sort of training and consultancy services that can support a council if they do wish to have some of that consultancy advice, I think it's fair to say, Claire.

Yes. One Voice Wales step into that space and their innovation awards are a good way of raising awareness of what can happen. And certainly, for the joint funding that we make available, funding joint arrangements, that can be used to buy in legal and other expertise to help them understand what the best form to take is and how to take it forward to address some of those early stumbling blocks.


Okay. Obviously, in terms of this general power of competence, before we dispatch that, clearly, the three things that Tracey has mentioned are things that are going to be easily verifiable. Is there anything else that will be taken on the say-so of the council concerned, or are these going to be the hard-and-fast things that you can judge?

Well, they're hard and fast, but it's for the local council to resolve itself that it is eligible. We won't be doing a check before the council becomes eligible, they will resolve—. I think I'm right here, the process is that they will resolve themselves that they are eligible and that they meet those three criteria.

Okay. But you'll be able to quickly check that what they say is correct.

Well, we've got to be able to check if they're two-thirds elected. We'd—

I'm not sure about checking about whether there'd be a qualified clerk. But we'd certainly know, I guess, whether they'd had qualified audits, but it's not our role to do that, to check that. It's for the council itself to resolve and determine, and to make public in its annual report that it's resolved to consider itself as being eligible. Our discussions over the time that this has been developed in the Bill are that the likelihood of a council resolving itself as being an eligible council when it isn't is actually really, really low, because councillors would be aware of it, the clerk would be aware. It seems almost like it couldn't—

They would be acting unlawfully, so, it's very highly unlikely.

Okay, fine. Moving on, how do you think the uptake of the offer of these training initiatives—? How is that capacity building, social enterprise in people's minds, enabling people to see the opportunities that could be available to community and town councils?

We've got various different types of training, some of which we've funded. And we've got, I think, two roles, really, in training: one is we provide some bursaries, and the second is that we're part of policy decisions on training as part of a national training advisory group. The aim of all of that training is to make sure people are equipped and well positioned to fulfil their roles, be it a role as a councillor or be it a role as a clerk. So, we've recently—. I think most of our efforts over the last year have been on online training, because we think that's more accessible, and one of the issues that we've had is that people find it quite hard to take the time to go to training, so to have it in those modules—. They're only up and running since the summer, so I haven't really got any figures or update on those.

It's an early venture into that space, thinking, 'Can we provide online training for the councillors and would they access it and would they find it useful?' So, we've put an initial set of introductory modules online via the One Voice Wales website. There's a survey under way at the moment, run by One Voice Wales and the Society of Local Council Clerks to look, more generally, at training needs and training appetite. That will check whether they have been using the online training and that'll inform our way forward.

So, at the moment, we've no idea what the uptake is either—

For the online training. But, for example, we know that with the councillors' training, more councillors tend to take training just after the election, when they've just come in. So, we do tend to see a bit of a surge, really, around the year after the election, and I think the trick for us, and something we'll be very focused on for the next election is getting them in for that initial training when their appetite is there to learn more about their role, and then continuing to provide them with opportunities for ongoing training, going forward.

So, once you've got the information from One Voice Wales, is it possible for the committee to have the breakdown of the uptake of this training, both for councils with an annual turnover of below £40,000 and for those up to £100,000?

Yes, I'm sure that absolutely would be—. I think, generally, more people have undertaken the councillors' training, obviously, because there are more councillors, but there's been a higher rate of training of councillors, not all of which is funded by us through our bursary, whereas, I think, traditionally, the training for clerks has been a much lower uptake. I mean, a very low uptake.

For particular types of training for the clerks. But one thing that's worth adding is that one of the proposals in the Bill is to introduce a requirement to do a training plan, so where things are moving towards now is asking each council to consider its training needs both for councillors, clerks and staff, and to set out and publish what their expectations are around training as part of that move to formalise and to encourage them to think about what those training needs are. So we're hoping that that will help—


We're hoping that will, because as I say, the training uptake for clerks has been low.

Okay. Does that surprise you, given that the clerks are being paid to carry out these duties, whereas the councillors, obviously, are doing it voluntarily? That's surprising to me. Therefore, what's your latest thinking on making core training mandatory for both clerks and for councillors?

I think partly with the clerks it's the fact that they don't often work that many hours, and some of the training—. I'm thinking of the main qualification, the certificate—I always get this wrong—the certificate in local council administration, CILCA, that's a four-day course, and so that's a big commitment.

As for the mandation of training, certainly we had a very good look at that when we consulted on the draft Bill, the power to local people Bill, and it certainly wasn't a strong response back that they wanted mandatory training for councillors, but there was an acceptance that there should be core training in certain areas, but not mandated. That's the approach that we've taken in the introduction of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill with the training plan—that councils will be required to consider and address the training needs of both their councillors and their clerks. I think mandation of training for clerks is a different and separate issue, certainly for clerks who will be part of an eligible council for the general power of competence; they will have to have had training. That is going to be written into the Bill.

For the other community and town councils, as I say, they're so varied. Some of them are tiny, with just £1,000, so some of it might be a bit disproportionate, I think.

Can I just add my view to qualify this? Just because a clerk hasn't had the CILCA training, it doesn't mean that they don't have any skills or ability in particular areas. So, many might be solicitors or lawyers by profession, or potentially accountants, so I think there is quite a high level of knowledge within the sector, but just not in terms of the formal qualifications that we might recognise.

Okay. So are you hoping, then, to approach this through requiring all community and town councils to have a plan—

—for their training needs? So that, where the clerk is a solicitor, that can be noted, and clearly, that gives you an idea they might know something about the law.

Yes, but where there is a skills gap—and they will be writing down their training requirements, so they will be able to identify those gaps or those shortfalls—they can then move to fill them in a much more organised way, and potentially, over time, build up the capacity of the clerk and the councillors.

Can I just explore the power to trade that you mention in your document? Because, clearly, this is a key area. If we're going to get community councils seizing opportunities to develop aspects of the foundational economy locally, taking advantage of the renewable resources on their doorstep, et cetera, how do you think you're going to embed this in the ways of working of those town councils or community councils that want to take up this opportunity?

That's a very good challenge, actually. Do you want to lead on this, Reg? The point I was going to make is that the only councils that will be able to have those powers will be those that are eligible, so they are ones that we feel have already demonstrated a certain level of competence in terms of running their financial affairs well for two years, not having had a qualified audit, for their clerk to be qualified. That doesn't necessarily mean to say that if those two conditions are in place you're automatically ready to trade as such, but I think that's something to—


So, what has been the qualification for those like Solva, or others, who've got their own renewable energy company? How have you established their competency to launch themselves into this venture?

Those councils will be using the existing powers, and there are a very extensive range of existing powers that councils can use without, certainly, the tests of general power of competence. And, as we said earlier on, the councils are free to do that; we wouldn't get involved. I think you do raise a really good point, and there will always be a risk around allowing some of the smaller councils to begin to trade, or to carry on trading, but I think that that's part of the advantage of having small councils that are responding to their community needs. For some, it may be power generation; for others, it may be something very different. So, I suppose, to create the model that will fit across such a varied sector, with such different sizes of organisations—financial turnovers, £5,000 to £200,000—is very difficult, and our position is we have given the councils the power and they now need to go and exercise it, and there will be a risk with that. 

So, how are conflicts of interest going to be addressed in these sorts of situations?

Well, every community council needs to have a set of standing orders, and those standing orders ought to cover issues like conflicts of interest. 

But you can see that, once people start to trade, there are obviously commercial opportunities for individuals, who might be members of the community council, and all these things need managing. So, is there any intention to—. Who's going to monitor all this? Is it just going to be One Voice Wales? Clearly, there are going to be audits going on in the auditor general's office, but they won't necessarily pick up the sort of informal aspects of it. People have different names, and it's not always easy to spot where—

It's certainly not something that we would be policing at all, and it wouldn't be our role; we don't have the kinds of powers to do that. I think you're right that there are risks, but it's about a risk management approach, I think, here. 

And if we can create a strong set of governance arrangements within the councils, with the audit arrangements that will be carried out, that ought to give us reasonably high confidence that we would begin to pick these issues up. And, as clerks, certainly in those authorities that qualify for GPOC—

General power of competence. 

They will be trained. They will be much more likely to spot issues like this. 

As I say, it is in the guidance. I was just checking actually that conflicts of interest were a service. It's there in 'The good councillor's guide', which is something that we produced, and it's pretty clear here, under the rules for councillors, that, as a councillor, you must declare a personal interest as soon as you're aware that you or people close to you might benefit more than most other people in the community from the outcome of a matter under discussion, or obviously, I suppose, that would transfer to a contract. 

It's worth adding that when we set the statutory guidance about having competence and how it should be exercised—. And we can certainly make sure to reiterate the existing requirements around conflicts of interest, but also, to explore what that might mean in the context of being able to trade, and some of the things they should be thinking about could be built into that statutory guidance. And they would have to have due regard to that guidance then. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Cyn i mi ddechrau, dwi'n rhannu rhai o bryderon Jenny Rathbone, a dweud y gwir, achos dwi'n gwybod bod dros 700 o gynghorau tref a chymuned trwy Gymru, a rhai ohonyn nhw'n fach iawn, ac eraill yn reit fawr, fel gwnaeth Tracey Burke grybwyll, yn y Barri ac ati. Ond, yn y bôn, mae yna bwerau eithaf sylweddol. Tan yn ddiweddar, roedd mwy o bwerau codi trethiant gyda'r cynghorau yma nag oedd gyda'r Senedd yma nes i ni gael pwerau i godi trethi yn fan hyn. Felly, mae'r pwerau yn reit sylweddol, ac rwy'n credu bod yna bwynt ynglŷn â phobl yn cymryd eu gwaith o ddifrif fel cynghorwyr cymuned.

Mae'r cwestiynau sydd gyda fi yn nhermau gwella'r berthynas efo cyrff eraill, ac yn y lle cyntaf efo cynghorau sir. Yn y gorffennol pell, flynyddoedd maith yn ôl, roeddwn i'n arfer bod yn gynghorydd sir yn Abertawe. Ac wrth gwrs, fel rydych chi wedi ei grybwyll eisoes, y map yma, does yna ddim cynghorau cymuned yn ninas Abertawe—ond byddai rhai pobl yn dweud ar y cyrion, yn y Mwmbwls, Gorseinon, Pontarddulais, Clydach, Mawr, er enghraifft. Collwyd cyngor cymuned Dynfant ychydig flynyddoedd yn ôl, ar ôl rhyw drybini lleol. Felly, sut ydych chi'n gweld cryfhau y berthynas rhwng cynghorau sir a chynghorau cymuned? Achos o ochr y cynghorau sir, o ran materion fel cynllunio ac ati, wel does yna ddim hawl statudol gyda'r cynghorau cymuned i roi tystiolaeth statudol; mae'n nhw'n sylwebyddion, onid ydyn nhw? Ond does dim rhaid i neb gymryd sylw o beth mae'r cyngor cymuned yn ei weld o ryw ddatblygiad cynllunio, ac ati. Felly, sut ydych chi'n gweld yr angen—? Dŷch chi'n sôn yn eich papur fod angen cryfhau'r berthynas yma rhwng y prif gynghorau, y cynghorau sir a'r cynghorau cymuned. Sut mae hynna'n mynd i ddatblygu yn y blynyddoedd yma sydd i ddod, ydych chi'n meddwl?

Thank you, Chair. Before I start, I share some of Jenny's concerns, because I know that there are over 700 town and community councils across Wales, with some of them very small, and others quite large, as Tracey Burke mentioned in relation to Barry. But, essentially, there are quite significant powers. Until recently, these councils had greater tax-raising powers than this Senedd, that was until we had tax-raising powers here. So, the powers are quite substantial. I think there is a point about people taking their work seriously as community councillors.

The questions I have are in terms of improving the relationships with other bodies, and in the first instance with county councils. In the very distant past, many years ago, I used to be a county councillor in Swansea. And as you've already mentioned, with this map, there are no community councils in the city of Swansea—but some people would say on the periphery, in Mumbles, Gorseinon, Pontarddulais, Clydach, and Mawr. The community council was lost in Dunvant a few years ago, after some local trouble. So, how do you see this relationship strengthening between community councils and principal councils? Because, from the county council side, in issues such as planning, and so forth, community councils don't have a statutory right to provide statutory evidence; they are commentators, aren't they? Nobody has to take into account what the community council sees with regard to a certain planning development. So, how do you see this requirement—? You talk in your paper about this need to strengthen the relationship between community councils and principal councils. How is that going to develop in the years to come, do you think?


Diolch yn fawr. Rydw i'n dysgu siarad Cymraeg.

Thank you very much. I am learning to speak Welsh.

But it's not good enough to answer your question in Welsh at the minute, I'm afraid. So, apologies.

The relationship between the principal councils, as we would call them, and community and town councils, there has been quite some work done to improve those relationships, but actually not by us. We certainly got the ball rolling by bringing together the principal councils and community and town councils, to discuss relationship issues. That was a couple of years ago. Then the panel was doing its work, and we were responding. And once that had taken place, we offered to bring everybody together. But, actually, we had quite a strong representational push-back from the sector, to say it was for them to work through and manage those interrelationships, and they have picked that up. So, the chair of the Welsh Local Government Association, and the chair of One Voice Wales, have formed a task and finish group, and they have quite a detailed work programme, looking at issues such as how to increase participation, distinction between roles. They've just been doing some recent work, I think, on asset transfers. In fact, actually, they have been looking at our areas of action, to tell us where they think we should act, and we've got quite an ambitious and long list of actions there—so, having some help to prioritise 'what next' on those. And indeed, actually, the views of this committee would be very welcome, from your perspective as committee members, but also from your own perspective, as to where we should target our actions next. And also, the WLGA have sought commitments from local authorities to have a charter with the community and town councils. So, as I say, there's quite a lot of work under way, to try to build those relationships, but, as I say, that has been picked up by the sector itself, which I think is a good thing.

Diolch yn fawr am hynna. Ar gefn hynna, wrth gwrs, mae yna berthnasau eraill i'w cael, fel perthnasau rhanbarthol, megis efo'r byrddau gwasanaethau cyhoeddus—public services boards—sydd yn gweithredu yn rhanbarthol, fel dŷch chi'n gwybod. Nawr, sut ydych chi'n rhagweld hynna'n gweithio, achos, o ran y byrddau gwasanaethau cyhoeddus yma, mae yna nifer sylweddol o aelodau ar bob bwrdd, o bob math o wahanol sefydliadau a sectorau, ac un o'r rheini, wrth gwrs, ydy'r cynghorau tref a chymuned? Ac o gofio bod yna 740 o gynghorau tref a chymuned, a dim 740 o fyrddau gwasanaethau cyhoeddus—lawer iawn yn llai—sut ydych chi'n gwneud yn siŵr bod y gynrychiolaeth o'r cynghorau cymuned ar y byrddau gwasanaethau cyhoeddus yna yn gynrychioliadwy o'r cynghorau cymuned a thref?

Thank you very much for that. On the back of that, there are other relationships, including regional relationships, such as those with the public services boards, which operate on a regional level, as you know. Now, how do you foresee that working, because, as regards the PSBs, there are quite a number of members on each board, from different institutions or organisations, and sectors, and one of those, of course, is the community and town councils? And given that there are 740 community and town councils, and not 740 PSBs—the number is much less—how do you ensure that the community council membership of those boards is representative of the town and community councils?

Well, that's a much more difficult question to answer than your first one, actually, because, you're right, it's 740 community and town councils versus, I think, 19 public services boards. Now, in some areas, that's a lot easier. If we take Merthyr, there is only one community and town council. If you take Powys, I think there are over 100 community and town councils in Powys. As I say, that goes back to the geography that we were discussing earlier. So, I think it would be quite easy for us to write a regulation to say, 'There must be a representative.' But, really, how is that going to work in Powys?

There are some very good examples. There are, I think, at least four public services boards who have community and town council representatives on them. Others have chosen to have fora where they meet with those community and town councils, and I'm thinking that something like that, probably, in Powys would be the right way forward. But it's something that we need to continue to work with the sector on. I certainly don't have the answer to that particular issue today. But this is a multi-year kind of set of activities that we're undertaking. So, working with the sector, hopefully we'll come up with an answer to that.


It may be that what works well for one public services board area doesn't work for another. So, it might well look to have distinct solutions. So, Powys has particular challenges with 110 community councils. So, what works well for them might not be what's needed for an area that has fewer councils. The challenge is how you get to that meaningful engagement with that area.

Dyma fy nghwestiwn olaf i, Gadeirydd, a diolch am eich amynedd. Wrth gwrs, perthynas arall ydy efo swyddfa'r ombwdsmon gwasanaethau cyhoeddus, yn enwedig yn nhermau materion cod ymddygiad a gweithdrefnau cwyno, achos weithiau mae pethau'n mynd yn draed moch efo ambell gyngor tref a chymuned—af i ddim i enwi neb. Dŷch chi'n sôn yn eich papur am yr angen i sefydlu cysylltiad rhwng cynghorau tref a chymuned a swyddfa'r ombwdsmon gwasanaethau cyhoeddus. Ydych chi eisiau ehangu ar y bwriad yna, felly? Diolch.

This is the final question from me, and thank you for your patience, Chair. Another relationship is with the public services ombudsman's office, particularly in terms of code of conduct issues and grievance procedures, because sometimes things get into a mess for some community councils—I won't name any. You mention in your paper the need to facilitate engagement between the public services ombudsman's office and these councils. Would you like to expand on that intention? Thank you.

Yes, that was one of the actions in our action paper that we submitted to the committee, and we certainly assisted that work to get under way. I don't want to take any more credit than that for this. Yet again, it's quite a good example of where the sector itself is taking this forward. So, the public services ombudsman and One Voice Wales, and I think the Society for Local Council Clerks have been involved too, have been working on some new guidance around the code of conduct. Obviously, there is the existing code of conduct under legislation already, so I think—and I hope I'm not saying something I shouldn't here—that their work's been focused more around the evidence, as to what evidence you need around a code of conduct issue, because I think, in the past, several cases have not gone through the process because it's been the wrong sort of evidence or not sufficient. So, that's what they've been working on, and the last I heard, which actually I have to say was a couple of months ago, was that that work was nearly complete. Is that right?

Yes, I think we're expecting it shortly.

Expecting it shortly.

Thank you and good afternoon, panel. My question is regarding improving accountability in town and community councils in Wales. You said earlier in your statement that they get a budget between less than £10,000 and £1 million—it's serious money. So, do you think that they should be given some guidance and some financial education to make sure that the annual reporting and annual returns are properly done and they're properly accountable?

I totally agree that they absolutely have to be accountable. As I say, these are sovereign bodies who are accountable to their electorate and they're managing public funds. So, they do need to be accountable for the money, even small money, that they are responsible for. The annual report requirement will be part of the Bill that we introduced last week, so there will be a statutory requirement for councils to produce an annual report, and, alongside that, we will be producing guidance of what we expect to see in that annual report. So, we've been very clear about what we anticipate seeing in that annual report.

So, have you put in your Bill any sanctions on non-compliance on these sort of things?

Well, the sanction for non-compliance, I suppose, is it's a legal duty so the sanction is legal challenge. I doubt whether we'd be doing that over small matters, or who might be doing that. But, that is the sanction. As with any other public body that does not fulfil its statutory duty, it could be open to legal challenge.


Okay, thank you. I know that you're going to put—your forthcoming Bill is coming. What progress has been made with your thinking around any of the other improving accountability areas for further consideration set out in your paper, including extending the sustainable development principles?

That's an interesting one, the sustainable development principle, because we really want to develop this and stay with the spirit of the recommendation. Our discussions have been that the full legal duty is disproportionate really to some of the councils. As I say, they are very small councils. So, actually taking the sustainable development principle as a part of that duty we feel is the proportionate way to go forward, and our thinking at the moment is that we will require, in the annual report, that councils are required to report on not only what they have been working on, but how they have been working on that. We think that that delivers on the spirit of the recommendation without being disproportionate in our approach. 

Jenny Rathbone, do you have a supplementary question? 

Yes, I just wanted to know what merit there is in making county councils statutorily responsible for the good conduct of the community councils in their area, because they're on the spot in a way that members of the Welsh Government down in Cardiff wouldn't know what was happening in a place in north Wales, say.

I would imagine that that would be highly contentious, I would imagine. Because community and town councils are, as I say, sovereign bodies in themselves and democratically elected, and I think that would be highly contentious. Would you agree, Reg? You're more wise on these things.

Yes, well, I think we saw, from the consultation around the training, the relationship between principal and community councils. There was a great feeling amongst community councils that they wouldn't want local authorities to be responsible for making elements of their training programme compulsory. So, just extrapolating that to make the principal council any more responsible for the standards of conduct in the community council, as Tracey says, would be very controversial indeed. And I think in practical terms, using Powys as an example, that would be, I think, a very significant issue and a very significant piece of work for the county council to do and to do it well.

Okay. But, we are in danger of reinventing the wheel 740 times if every independent council is having to grapple with how do you set up a community energy scheme.

I think where we started was describing the immense variability of the sector, and I think it's probably worth remembering that not all the 735 will either want to start up an energy programme or potentially be capable of it. So, our challenge is: how do we create, if you like, a legal and policy framework that will enable councils to do what it is that is right for their community?

So, is there an enabling approach for PSBs in all this, if they are in an area where there are lots of those types of opportunities, to give people the technical know-how that's required?

If a community council is very keen on taking forward an energy scheme, for example, I would expect them to begin talking to One Voice Wales, as the representative organisation, to draw in some of that other potential practice that is going on elsewhere. They're also able to speak to their principal councils for guidance: 'How would we go about establishing, if you like, a scheme?', 'What are the governance and financial things that we might have to do as an independent sovereign and accountable organisation to make sure that we are protected?' I think we would hope that, given the work of the Wales Audit Office, given the work of One Voice Wales, given the work of Ministers, that councils that choose to be more ambitious will also be sufficiently aware to deal with those issues properly.

Just going back to one of the opening questions you answered and that word 'ambition' right at the very end, that must be one of the big challenges for the Welsh Government—enabling community councils to be responsible but ambitious at the same time.


Yes, absolutely. I think the proportionate approach that we're taking, for example, with the general power of competence, we're putting checks and balances in so that those ambitious councils who do want to take on new opportunities can do so, but with sufficient checks in terms of the eligibility criteria. But it is really hard to talk about them as being one sector. There's almost no homogeneity at all. As I say, 40 per cent of them have less than £10,000 to operate with, and that's for very, very local issues. So, yes, I often find it hard to talk about 'the sector' as if it is one thing.

You're dealing with over 700 different organisations.

Yes, some very, very different and variable organisations.

Okay, did anyone else have any further questions? No. Okay—

I just want to say at the end, I don't know whether any community or town councils would be listening to this now or picking it up—


—or be picking it up afterwards, but I certainly would like to go back to something I said at the start, Chair, which is, obviously, we've been really looking and picking over where things have gone wrong and their weaknesses. I just know from where I live, we've got some hugely, hugely committed councillors and hardworking clerks there, and I certainly wouldn't want them to think that we didn't absolutely recognise their role in grass-roots democracy and the sort of talent and enthusiasm that they bring to communities. It's just that we need to iron out some of the basic administration errors here.

Which is the slogan of this committee, I think, across nearly every inquiry we do. I couldn't put it better myself, so a point well made at the end. Can I thank you, Tracey Burke, Reg Kilpatrick and Claire Germain? We will send you a copy of the transcript for you to check before we publish it.

Yes, and any actions—sorry, I didn't take a proper note, I'm afraid. I'm sure that will come.

We can do that, and we can keep you in the loop on future developments. Okay, with that, thank you to our witnesses.

6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

I move Standing Order 17.42 to meet in private for items 7 and 8.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:07.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:07.