Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Cyllid

Finance Committee

06/02/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jenny Rathbone AC Yn dirprwyo ar ran Mike Hedges
Substitute for Mike Hedges
Llyr Gruffydd AC Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mark Reckless AC
Nick Ramsay AC
Rhianon Passmore AC
Sian Gwenllian AC

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Cath Wyatt Rheolwr Bil Llywodraeth Leol ac Etholiadau, Llywodraeth Cymru
Local Government and Elections Bill Manager, Welsh Government
Claire Germain Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwyr Trawsnewid a Phartneriaethau, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Transformation and Partnerships, Welsh Government
Julie James AC Y Gweinidog Tai a Llywodraeth Leol
Minister for Housing and Local Government
Lisa James Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwyr Democratiaeth Llywodraeth Leol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Local Government Democracy, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Leanne Hatcher Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Owen Holzinger Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Samantha Williams Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

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

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

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:03.

The meeting began at 09:03.

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

Bore da i chi i gyd. Croeso i Bwyllgor Cyllid y Cynulliad Cenedlaethol. Gaf i groesawu yn arbennig Jenny Rathbone, sy'n dirprwyo ar ran Mike Hedges, sydd, wrth gwrs, wedi ymddiheuro? Gaf i nodi bod clustffonau ar gael ar gyfer yr offer cyfieithu ac i addasu lefel y sain? Gaf i hefyd atgoffa Aelodau i ddiffodd y sain ar unrhyw ddyfeisiadau electronig, a gofyn oes gan unrhyw Aelodau fuddiannau i'w datgan? Nac oes. Iawn. 

Good morning to you all, and welcome to the Finance Committee of the National Assembly. Could I welcome particularly Jenny Rathbone, who is substituting on behalf of Mike Hedges, who sends his apologies? Could I note that headsets are available for translation and for sound amplification? And could I also remind Members to turn off their electronic devices, and ask whether Members have any interests to declare? No.

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Paper(s) to note

Ymlaen a ni felly. Gaf i wahodd Aelodau i nodi dau gopi o gofnodion cyfarfodydd a gynhaliwyd ar 23 Ionawr a 29 Ionawr eleni? Ydy Aelodau'n hapus i nodi'r dogfennau hynny? Ie. Diolch yn fawr. 

We move on, therefore. Could I invite Members to note two sets of minutes—one for 23 January and one for 29 January? Are Members happy to note those papers? Thank you very much.

3. Bil Llywodraeth Leol ac Etholiadau (Cymru): Sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
3. Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill: Evidence session 2

Felly, ymlaen â ni at brif eitem y cyfarfod y bore yma, sef, wrth gwrs, sesiwn dystiolaeth ar y Bil Llywodraeth Leol ac Etholiadau (Cymru). Ac mae'n bleser gen i groesawu Julie James, y Gweinidog Tai a Llywodraeth Leol atom ni'r bore yma i roi tystiolaeth i ni, ynghyd â'i swyddogion, sef: Cath Wyatt, sy'n rheolwr Bil llywodraeth leol ac etholiadau gyda Llywodraeth Cymru; Lisa James, dirprwy gyfarwyddwr democratiaeth llywodraeth leol; a Claire Germain, dirprwy gyfarwyddwr trawsnewidiaeth a phartneriaethau, eto gyda Llywodraeth Cymru. Felly, croeso i'r pedair ohonoch chi. Awn ni'n syth i mewn i gwestiynau, os ydy hynny'n iawn. Ac mi wnaf i gychwyn drwy jest dynnu sylw at y ffaith, efallai, mai un o'r ysgogwyr allweddol ar gyfer y Bil drafft ar lywodraeth leol a gyflwynwyd yn y Cynulliad diwethaf oedd yr angen i drawsnewid llywodraeth leol er mwyn cwrdd â'r heriau ariannol oedd yn eu hwynebu nhw, a jest i ofyn, ydy hynny, efallai, yn un o amcanion y Bil yma?

We move on, therefore, to the main item of the meeting this morning, namely the evidence session on the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill. And it's my pleasure to welcome Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government, to give evidence, as well as her officials, namely: Cath Wyatt, the local government and elections Bill manager with the Welsh Government; Lisa James, deputy director for local government democracy; and Claire Germain, deputy director of transformation and partnerships, again with the Welsh Government. So, welcome to the four of you. We'll go straight into questions, if that's okay. And I'll start by just drawing attention to the fact that one of the key drivers for the draft local government Bill that was published during the Fourth Assembly was the need to transform local government to meet the financial challenges it was facing, and just to ask whether that's one of the objectives of this Bill.

09:05

Thank you, Llyr. The financial challenges are certainly still there. We have had the best settlement—in draft, anyway—so far that we've had in nine years or so, but that does not in any way make up for some of the challenges that local government has faced. But the reforms in the Bill were always around improving governance, performance, transparency and accessibility for the citizens, and there are numerous ways to achieve that. So, we've gone for a focus on regional collaboration and working because—. I mean, people take different views, but my own view has very much been that rather than focus local democracy on a wholesale restructure, which we know takes their eye off the ball—to use their colloquialism—for at least two, if not four, years; if you look at their last reorganisation, it was a good four years before we got innovative practice coming back out again—. So, the focus of the Bill has switched from that structural reform to improving performance on a regional basis and sharing skills and innovation and a peer review performance set of criteria with a view to sharing good practice, sharing scarce skills and resource and not having the focus shift away from the delivery of services to citizens.

But you would expect or hope that that would realise some sort of financial savings as well, I'd imagine, in terms of efficiencies and—?

We would expect that the regional arrangements would allow people to share the resource that otherwise they would have to dissipate across the 22, but the focus is not financial savings, although we'd be very surprised if they didn't get them out of it.

Yes, sure. Okay. Thank you for that. The Bill, of course, includes a number of areas that haven't been costed on the basis that there are a lot of enabling powers in the Bill, and I understand that it's difficult until you know what Ministers will do with those powers, or others will do with those powers, to cost them, but I'm just wondering whether you are satisfied that the regulatory impact assessment actually provides a thorough analysis of those powers that are contained in this legislation. 

Yes. It's as a result of a really extensive consultation and stakeholder engagement process, and we've been working in particular with the WLGA over a couple of years now, really, to go through all of the various possibilities and so on and we've had a number of working groups chaired by external people, and the partnership council has a regional working group established for this purpose. So, we're pretty sure that we've gone through all of the various implications. 

Because you do intend, of course, to table amendments at Stage 2 as well, don't you? You've already said that in relation to prisoner voting and executive governance arrangements. Why are those not included in the Bill that was introduced and what do you think the implications are for the costs of this Bill of those elements? And how do you intend to enable further scrutiny around that? Because it's certainly a concern that we've raised previously in relation to other Bills, that amendments being brought forward later aren't afforded the same sort of financial scrutiny from our point of view as they would do at Stage 1. 

Yes, so, the prisoner—I'll take those two separately because they're very different scenarios. On the prisoner voting, elections weren't devolved to the Welsh Ministers until April 2018, so we couldn't have done it before then anyway, and then we were consulting on the electoral reform in the run-up to the devolution of that because we knew it was coming, but then when the Senedd and elections Wales Bill was introduced, the Llywydd asked the equalities and local government committee to undertake an inquiry on prisoner voting, which cut across what we were doing. So, I gave an undertaking to the committee that we wouldn't go ahead until we understood what the outcome of their piece of work was because they were interviewing a lot of people and taking a lot of evidence, so we didn't want to cut across that. So, that's what we've done, effectively: we've waited until the committee reported, and then what we're putting into this Bill largely mirrors—well, completely, I don't know why I always qualify it—it mirrors what the committee report said was the best outcome. So, we're doing what the committee recommended, effectively. 

But where does that leave us in terms of the Finance Committee being able to scrutinise what might be brought forward later?

So, in terms of the finances, we've been pretty upfront about what we think the effect of that one little franchise change is, and it's not extensive. I'm very happy to co-operate with the committee in any way that you want to make sure that you have the best information available, as do we, for what the costs of that might look like. 

The majority of the costs are going to fall on local government and much of the detail of the implementation is only going to be clear following the development of relevant subordinate legislation, so could you just tell us how you're going to continue to engage with these bodies around any further developments that aren't on the table at the moment?

09:10

The only other issue that's coming up at Stage 2 that isn't here is the issue around the mayoral elections, so that's the only other bit, and we consider that to be a corrective measure, because we've never had the problem in Wales, because we've never had a petition for a local mayor, but if we did, you'll see that the elections aren't lined up in any reasonable administrative fashion, so you'd have the election of a major council, and then, three months later, you'd have the election of the mayor, which would obviously disrupt the entire thing. That makes no sense.

So, our proposition is to back that up, so they all get elected at the same time, and it corrects what we consider to be a mistake, actually, in the previous legislation. But we don't think that's controversial in any way or has any implications for anyone, but if in response we get anyone with a substantive objection to that, we simply won't do it. We're just correcting mistakes, so I don't think that's any kind of issue, I have to say. And if it proves controversial in any way, we just won't do it. So that's that. I think that's a very separate category.

With this one, of course, we know how many people are likely to be enfranchised by this, and we know that the expense—. It's about 1,900 voters to the electoral register and we know that the cost of that is every five years, so we can work out what the costs are pretty exactly, actually, and we'll just add that to the budgets of the local authorities, so that they're recompensed for that. So I think that's pretty certain. So what's not certain is the passage of the Bill through the Senedd and so on, but if it was to go forward in that way, then the costs of it are pretty easy to work out.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds are fairly evenly distributed across the population, and we know where to find them: mainly in colleges. But foreign nationals who are going to be enfranchised by this Bill aren't evenly distributed, so will there be some sort of recognition of that for those local authorities where there are a much higher number of foreign nationals, like my own constituency of Cardiff Central?

Yes, and the idea is: so, some of the work, it doesn't make any difference what the population looks like, because you have to change the electoral registration systems and all the rest of it, whether you're a large authority or a small one, and the work is actually pretty much the same. For some things, though, like printing ballots and all that sort of stuff, then obviously a larger cost falls on people with larger electorates. We will make sure that the settlement reflects the cost to the local authority.

So there's no intention at all that a local authority will be disadvantaged because its electorate is larger or smaller. But it is important to understand that all authorities will have the same expense, regardless of the size of the electorate, for some of the proposals, like changing the electoral registration systems, for example. It makes no difference how many people are on your register; you still have to do all of the work.

Sorry, before we move on, I think, Nick, you wanted to come in on this.

Just a very quick point, and I might have totally got the wrong end of the stick here, so forgive me if I have. But you said earlier that there's not been this situation of a petition for mayor before. I was thinking back some years back, wasn't there a petition for a mayor of—was it Ceredigion? Or have I completely—?

There was a petition, but it wasn't successful, so it didn't get to the referendum stage.

Ah. So, it only got to petition, so—. But the process was initiated, wasn't it?

The process was initiated. Yes, it was the early 2000s.

Yes, I mean, I'm going back now to the dark recesses of my mind. I can barely remember yesterday, let alone the early 2000s.

Yes, it was the early 2000s. It didn't get to the point, around moving beyond petition stage and referendum stage. So, if there is a successful referendum, the current arrangement means that the election for the elected mayor can't currently be held on the same day as the ordinary election for all of the other councillors, so that would mean you would be electing a council in the May, and then, say, electing a mayor in the September or the October.

But it didn't really get to a stage whereby today you'd have much to learn from it, because it didn't get to that stage of referendum.

No. It's a timing issue, because potentially, if you elected a full council in the May, then under legislation, you'd have to elect a leader and there'd have to be a cabinet, and then you could have the election for the mayor several months later, who would then come in, and then it would all change, so it's quite potentially disruptive for the authority. And costly, for two elections.

So, obviously, when you were in front of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in November, you said you weren't able to discuss the finances of this. You've now issued a paper, which we got earlier this week, saying that you'd committed £800,000 for enabling new and existing voters to understand their democratic rights, and then £50,000 a year for this financial year and another payment for the following financial year for implementing the new processes. What is the view of local government on this? Is that going to cover their costs?

09:15

Yes, I think they're welcoming the additional money for that, and as I say, we'll work with them as we know where the electorate falls to make sure that there aren't any disproportionate costs falling on any large authorities, or authorities disproportionately affected by any of this. In effect, that's really only foreign citizens' enfranchisement, and we largely know where the population is, although we don't know actual numbers—about 33,000 off the top of my head. 

So, we can work out what that's likely to cost, but we don't know exactly where it falls, so it's likely to be in the conurbations, north and south, and we largely know where that is, but we'll work it out as we go forward. The numbers are pretty small, to be honest, so we're not talking about millions of pounds changing, you're talking about tens of thousands, if that.

Obviously, with 16 and 17-year-olds, we largely know where they are, whereas with foreign nationals it is more complicated to reach out to them, because there may be language issues. Have you had any discussions about the most effective way of joining up the dots on this? Is it through workplace information?

Yes, so when we were talking to the policy committee on this, we discussed an extensive set of engagement arrangements around young people. We don't have that much of an extensive engagement arrangement for adults who are going to be enfranchised. Frankly, we need to do that across the population. It's not just for foreign nationals. I think we'll all have come across pockets of the electorate that it would be good to reach out to, so that's more of a national thrust, and we aren't currently proposing to do anything very specific, other than language issues, for enfranchising foreign nationals. But a much bigger campaign, which I think the Llywydd was talking about only yesterday in Plenary, around engagement around the Senedd elections, and then the local government elections afterwards, I think we're all agreed is necessary. 

Minister, your estimate of the cost of awareness raising implies that there'll be uniform activity across principal councils. Have you undertaken any analysis of the impact the increased franchise might have on individual principal councils?

As I was just saying, we don't expect it to be uneven across Wales, other than for foreign nationals. That's just a question of numbers, really. For most of these changes, they occur uniformly across Wales because they're administrative. 

In terms of engagement, there's a whole set of things that we're doing via the education system for young people, as I just said, and then we'll be collaborating with the Commission about the awareness raising for the Senedd elections, and then that will roll over into the local government ones. 

So apart from the foreign national issue, and some of the lesser issues, you're—

Yes. A section for the 16 and 17-year-olds, which is being done via the curriculum in schools and FE colleges and so on—forgive the term, it's just a colloquialism— because it's more of a captive audience. That's not intentionally a pun, but we know where they are and it's easy to reach them. For the population in general, obviously that's much more difficult, and so we'll be collaborating with the Commission about how to do a general awareness-raising exercise about the electoral arrangements for both the Senedd changes in franchise and then the mirrored changes in the franchise for local government immediately afterwards. 

Okay. The Bill provides a regulation-making power for an all-Wales electoral database. However, no costs are detailed, and you suggested that these could be contained in relevant regulations. Are you able to give some indication of the costs that will be incurred in establishing and maintaining the database?

The short answer to that is 'not really, no'. We've got quite a lot of things to do before we get to the electoral database. So, we don't want to run before we can walk, so we're going to do all the original changes first, so, all of the other things that the electoral registration officers want to do, while we develop the database afterwards. Then when we put the regulatory impact assessment in place for that, obviously we'll be putting the costs for that. But we haven't even started it yet, so trying to estimate the costs before you've even started is quite difficult. 

09:20

After the first lot of elections under the new system, so, what's that, two years off, two and a half years off?

And then the regulatory impact assessment suggests that there are going to be electoral pilots between 2022 and 2027. I know that's some way down the line as well, so that's probably work at its very early stages, but is there any indication yet of what form those pilots will take and the potential cost of them? 

No. The answer to that is quite simply 'no'. We work with the organisation of electoral registration and returning officers, the name of which I can never remember for some reason. 

It's the association of electoral—. AEA. [Laughter.] The Association of Electoral Administrators. 

I can never remember. Association of electoral returning officers and administrators, or something. Anyway, those groups. We work with that group to—

And the WECB, which is the Wales electoral co-ordination board, so that brings together members of the AEA, Welsh Government, other electoral administrators and the Electoral Commission. So, that's where a lot of this technical administrative work is brought together. 

And the point of that is what we'll do is work out a programme of pilots with them, so that we have sensible pilots across Wales that test various systems that we're interested in testing, rather than allowing individual authorities to come forward with pilots that don't necessarily form a programme, and we've got no problem with that. 

Yes. There are a number of pilots that we might want to look at, and they might have different impacts in rural or urban areas, or in different populations, and so on. So, we want to have a programme of those rather than individual ones popping up. And the Bill also has a power for us to direct authorities to undertake a pilot, which is new. That's because if the Electoral Commission wants to do something, then it may be that we have to do it on a regional basis. We're not anticipating having any problem with this, and I emphasise we've never had any problem with any local authority not doing it, but we wouldn't want to be not able to conduct a regional pilot because one authority didn't want to do it. So, we are giving ourselves a power to direct them, although I don't anticipate it would ever be necessary.

I know we can't tie the hands of a future Finance Committee, but there's obviously work there that could be done in the next Assembly. 

Yes. It's not going to happen now, anyway. There might be one or two pilots around slightly different voting methods because of the young people, so I'm very keen on looking at whether we can do something around voting where they study, for example, but we're not in a position to take that forward at the moment. 

Returning officers tend to be either chief executives or other very senior members of local authorities. So, the change we are getting here is that they're only going to be able to claim allowable expenses. Does that include things like being up all night when the count is occurring? And could you just elaborate on what are going to be allowable expenses, and what sort of savings do you think we're going to get from abolishing the lump sum?

This is a—. When you look into this, it gets more and more complex because individual authorities set different fee levels and have different schemes, and have different reclaimable expenses, and so on. So, there's no pattern across Wales. It's completely different authority to authority, so we haven't been able to say, 'This is a good scheme, this isn't a good scheme', so that's quite difficult. We think that the estimate of savings for not paying these fees is about £9,000 per authority, so just under £200,000 across Wales, but that is an estimate because it's not clear at all how every local authority does this, and some of them declare it in different ways, and so on; it's quite complicated. So, we haven't included those savings as we don't think they're realisable because, actually, the different contracts work in different ways and different claiming systems, and so on. We want to work with the local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association to work up a scheme that's national for Wales, but we're not in a position to do that at the moment.  

I don't know that the officials particularly want me to say this, but I'll say that it's not clear that local authorities have the power to pay their returning officer fee for the local government elections, which is what we're discussing here, although the Senedd elections—. It's hard to discuss it without discussing the two elections together. The Senedd elections they can pay a fee for and, obviously, for parliamentary ones they can, and that's part of the problem because many authorities have just implemented the same system for all three; others do it differently for three; it's really quite a complex picture. So, what we're doing here is being really clear that authorities cannot pay a separate fee, and then we'll work with them to work out what the arrangements are for senior staff—actually, for all staff in the authority, because, if you run an election in a local authority, very large numbers of staff are up all night for several nights and so on; it's not just the senior officers. 

09:25

It is extraordinary. Because, normally, equal pay for work of equal value applies, but clearly this doesn't—

Well, nobody's taken that up as an issue, and different authorities do different things, and different returning officers do different things. Some of them keep the fee personally, others distribute it amongst their staff; I mean, it's just all—there is no pattern at all across Wales.

We await further elaboration on that. Are there—? We've agreed the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill now. Are there any further risks or dependencies in the interactions between this and that Bill?

Not anymore. Until that Bill went through, there were clearly a lot of risks and interactions, but, now that the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act is in place, then no. This Bill is now standalone, because all of the provisions that went through with that are sorted out in that Act, and we no longer have to sort them out in this one.

Okay, fine. Just moving on now to the general power of competence that this Bill plans to give to local authorities, you suggested to the local government committee that you may place limitations on this general power of competence were councils intending to use it for risky commercial ventures with a view to getting a revenue stream. How are you going to define what is a risky commercial venture from a perfectly valid idea of having a municipal energy service that enables residents to have a more cost-effective energy service?

So, we intend to make regulations under section 35 of the Bill that require councils to prepare and approve a business case, including all the underlying objectives, before they go ahead with using the power of general competence for a commercial venture, including the investment and the resources required, the risks associated with delivering it and the expected financial outcome. It interacts with the prudential code for borrowing as well, so we'll make sure that the guidance for the prudential code also reflects that. This is not intended in any way to stop authorities doing appropriate things for the benefit of their citizens. But, you know—I'll just try to find an extreme example—we don't want them to buy supermarkets in Hungary because the land value prices there are currently declining or some such, or raise an army or anything. [Laughter.]

They could, in theory, buy a supermarket in a town that didn't have any other food distribution shop.

Yes. If they went through the business case, and it was a good investment and had good commercial reasons for doing it, and they'd properly assessed the risks and all that sort of stuff, then absolutely. But we are aware that some English councils have been doing all kinds of strange things in order to generate income, and we think that those are probably more risky than we'd like to see here in Wales.

Indeed. So, would you be seeking to restrict local authorities any more than they already are restrained by the Local Government Act 2003 in this respect?

No, not at all. It's intended to widen the scope for local authorities. All we're planning to do is insist in the regs that they prepare the business case. On the preparation of a business case that makes sense, and the authority is itself happy with it, and its external auditors and so on are happy with it, then they'll be able to go ahead. It's not in any way intended to restrict what they're doing. It's just to make them make sensible decisions.

Bore da. Dwi eisiau edrych ar elfennau'r Bil sy'n gysylltiedig efo ymgysylltu a chyfranogi a sut bydd y rheini yn cael eu gweithredu. Mi ydych chi wedi clustnodi adnoddau ar gyfer y gwaith yma, ond un swm cyffredinol ydy o. Pam nad ydych wedi'i dorri fo i fyny yn fwy priodol ar gyfer gwahanol awdurdodau lleol? Allech chi jest egluro'r rhesymeg dros hynny?

Good morning. I want to look at the elements of the Bill to do with engagement and participation and how they'll be implemented. You have identified resources for this work, but it's one general amount. Why haven't you divided it up more appropriately for different local authorities? Could you explain the rationale for that?

Certainly. We expect local authorities to take a similar approach to meeting this duty regardless of their size, and we expect them to share knowledge, expertise, materials and experiences across Wales in order to do this. And so we're not expecting that any particular local authority—. We don't think size matters, just to be—. So, we think that a small authority might have just as many expenses in putting their scheme together as a larger authority, because you'd still want to reach all the groups in that authority, regardless of the size. If you want to reach all the young people in a smaller authority, you've still got to put a scheme in place to do that, regardless of whether that's 10,000 or 20,000 young people. So, we aren't anticipating that a larger authority would have more expense than a smaller authority. It's one of the things that they all have to do all of it, regardless of the size of the population. But we also expect them to share good practice, and we're working very hard with the WLGA to make sure that we have a scheme that local authorities can use for that purpose.

09:30

Ond does bosib ei fod o'n mynd i gostio mwy mewn rhywle fel Powys neu Wynedd—awdurdodau sydd yn ddaearyddol fawr â gwaith teithio ac yn y blaen, neu mae'n mynd i gostio mwy, efallai, mewn ardaloedd lle mae yna lot o bocedi o dlodi ac yn y blaen ac mae'n anoddach ac angen mwy o amser i ymgyrraedd at bobl felly. Dwi ddim yn deall sut eich bod chi'n gallu dweud bod un swm yn briodol—yr un un swm yn briodol ar gyfer yr amrywiaeth fawr o ardaloedd sydd gennym ni.

But surely it will cost more somewhere like Powys or Gwynedd—these geographically larger areas with travel involved, or it will cost more, perhaps, in areas where there are lots of pockets of poverty and so forth, and it's more difficult and more time is needed to reach people like that. I don't know how you can say that one amount is appropriate—the same amount is appropriate for that wide range of areas that we have.

Well, I suppose the short answer is: if it turns out that it's very much more expensive in one particular authority, we'd be happy to look at that. But we really don't anticipate that. They already have a large number of powers and duties to engage with local people, so this is an additional one; it's not the only one. So, this is an additional thing that every local authority is expected to do; it's not the only way that they engage their population, just to be clear—

Felly, dydych chi ddim yn sôn am ryw ymgyrch fawr benodol ar hwn; rydych chi'n sôn am ychwanegu hwn at waith maen nhw'n ei wneud yn ymgynghori ar wahanol faterion.

So, you're not talking about a large, specific campaign on this; you're talking about adding this to the work they've been doing in terms of consultation on various issues.

Yes. Yes, so, for example, all authorities already have a democratic services committee, a standards committee, a cabinet, all that sort of stuff, so this is just adding to how do they make the proceedings of those organisations more transparent to local people, how do they get feed-in mechanisms in place and so on. I expect you're about to ask me about the broadcasting and so on, so it's part of a pattern that we're trying to get—we're trying to find ways of making sure that local people feel more connected to their local authority. We all know that disengagement is a problem, right across the whole of western democracy, actually. And so this is just another thing that we're asking them to look at, to do, to try and re-engage local people in the processes of the local authority.

Beth ydy'r cysylltiad rhwng y cyhoeddiad rydych chi wedi ei wneud ynglŷn â'r £800,000 ar y cyd efo'r Gweinidog Addysg i gefnogi pleidleiswyr newydd ac yn y blaen—? Dwi'n cymryd bod hynny'n digwydd rŵan, ac rydym ni'n sôn am, yn yr asesiad effaith rheoleiddiol, pan fydd y Bil yn weithredol, ie, ond i wneud yr un math o waith.

What's the link between your announcement about the £800,000, together with the Minister for Education, to support new voters and so forth—? That's happening at the moment, I assume, and we're talking about, in the regulatory impact assessment, when the Bill is implemented, but to do the same kind of work.

No. One is specifically to engage new voters in the electoral system and to explain, if you like, the electoral system and the engagement of the new voters.

And the education tools—[Inaudible.]

Yes. And that—as I was saying earlier, that's done largely through the curriculum and the materials going to schools and further education colleges and so on. This is about engaging local people in the organs of democracy, if you like—so, in the meetings and in the decisions and all the rest of it. They're completely interrelated, of course, Siân, but slightly separate in the way that we're putting them out in the Bill.

Mae Jenny jest eisiau dod i mewn ar hwnna.

Jenny just wants to come in on that.

Yes, I wanted to come in. Talking about the community and town councils, fully two thirds of these positions are uncontested, so there's a bit of a mountain to climb, and £800,000 is unlikely to fix it. How much resource do you think we should be targeting at that problem, where there really is a democratic deficit? These organisations are not ones where people are wanting to come forward and serve.

The £800,000 is not aimed at town and community councils. It's specifically aimed at the changing franchise for local government, so it's very much not aimed at that, although I agree entirely that that's a difficulty. Elsewhere in the Bill, of course, we're putting restrictions on town and community councils around the general power of competence and so on to reach particular thresholds before they're able to exercise that, with a view to they themselves coming forward with schemes that re-engage their local community, and one of them is the number of actual contested elections that they've had, for that exact reason. But that's a separate thing entirely to this bit that we're talking about here. I'm going to look at Lisa and say, 'They're not a principal council for the purposes of this.'

09:35

No, that's right. I was just going to mention that we are doing complementary work outside of the Bill around trying to increase, in particular, diversity in democracy. So, we're currently working with the WLGA and One Voice Wales around developing the next phase of that work, which we ran in advance of the previous local government elections. And we've run a series of workshops recently with a wide engagement across representative groups from people with protected characteristics to try and understand and explore what we might do over the next two years to encourage more people to stand, both at town and community council level and principal council level as well.

If I could add to that and just say, underneath the legislation as planned, we're looking to introduce an annual reporting duty, and, as part of that, we'll be expecting them to talk about how they engage the communities as part of their annual reports. We've also committed, ahead of the next elections, to do some work to raise awareness of the councils and the role that they play to encourage greater turnout and more contest at the next elections.

Ocê. Rydych chi wedi sôn yn fras, dwi'n meddwl, am ddeisebau sydd yn cael eu hanfon at awdurdodau lleol, ac rydych chi'n ystyried y gallai'r ddeddfwriaeth gynyddu hynny, ond dydych chi ddim yn sôn am faint bydd hynna'n costio.

You've briefly mentioned petitions that are submitted to local authorities, and you are considering that legislation could increase that, but you don't mention how much that would cost.

So, the costs we have at the moment are our best estimates of what petitions currently cost in local government, and, if the committee has anything they want to suggest for different ways of doing that, I'm very happy to consider it. It's the same problem we've got—it's not uniformly reported, et cetera—so, it's a best-guess estimate.

We're changing, as you know, to an electronic petition set. So, the bulk of the cost in respect of those provisions are the establishment and maintenance of the petitions scheme, and the beauty of an e-petition scheme is it doesn't matter how many petitions you have, the cost is the same. So, that's one of the reasons that we're wanting to do it. And we also think that, in engaging young people, most young people, the idea of filling out a form at your local council office in order to start something in order to get your council to, it's just—you can't even get to the end of the sentence with them before they've stopped listening. They're very familiar on social media with the kind of petition system that you get and so on, and this would enable local government, electors and interest groups to do petitions in the way that's become very familiar to all of us on social media and so on. We hope that that would very much increase the engagement of sector groups and young people, in particular, in that process. And the costs are one-off costs for the council in purchasing the system, and then a maintenance cost, and then the preparation of the scheme itself. But, actually, once you've done that, there are no—. If you have 100,000 petitions, it doesn't cost you any more than if you have three, actually, once the system is in place, which is not the case now, of course; it's very much more expensive.

Ond dydy o ddim yn system ystyrlon iawn, nac ydy? Os ydych chi'n mynd i fod yn cynyddu nifer o'r deisebau, mae'n rhaid i bobl deimlo bod yna werth iddyn nhw fod yn cynnig deiseb, ac felly rydych chi angen staff i edrych drwy'r holl gynigion ac i wneud y gwaith o gwmpas y deisebau. Felly, mae dweud dydy o ddim yn costio dim mwy achos eich bod chi'n mynd yn electronig—dim dyna ydy'r pwynt, nac ydy? Os ydych chi'n trio cynyddu democratiaeth drwy'r defnydd o ddeisebau, mae eisiau pobl, wedyn, i fod yn gweithredu ynglŷn â'r cynnwys sy'n cael ei gynnig, neu mae pobl yn mynd i jest meddwl, 'Does yna ddim pwynt.'

But it isn't a very meaningful system, is it? If you are going to be increasing the number of petitions, then people need to feel that there's value in them submitting a petition. So, you need staff to be able to look through all the proposals and to do the work around those petitions. So, saying that it's not costing any more because you're going electronic—that's not the point, is it? If you're trying to increase democracy by use of petitions, you need people, then, to be implementing around the content that's put forward or people are just going to think, 'Well, there's no point'.

And I agree entirely with that, and we've put a managing and monitoring scheme in place, which is just under £8,000 per annum per council, which is based on 11 petitions a year per council. What we'll have to do there, Siân, is monitor it. I mean, if it was really popular and people really engaged with it, and the council found itself in a position where it was having a lot of engagement, then clearly we'd would want to work with that council to understand how we would encourage that, because that's what we want. We want it to be popular and engage more people, and I entirely agree with you: if the council's responding to that, they may well have more officers involved. We've just made a best-guess estimate of where we are at the moment, but we would be working continuously with the WLGA to understand this.

And this whole Bill is about empowering local government. So, we'd be working continuously with the WLGA to understand what the costs of that might be and to ensure that we're able to respond to that. There's no doubt at all that community engagement can cost money, but, at the moment, it costs money to no purpose. In my career, I've been many times to a public meeting where the number of council officers far outweighs the number of people who've come to the consultation. What we hope is that the costs won't go up very much, because that is a very expensive thing to do, whilst the effectiveness, efficiency and engagement with local people might be very much improved by this. So, the cost of the community polls comes off, by the way, which is a very expensive and not at all effective system.

09:40

Ond dydych chi ddim wedi cynnwys hwnna yn yr asesiad effaith rheoleiddiol, y ffaith bod yna arbedion yn debygol o godi o ddiddymu pleidleisiau cymunedol. Oni ddylech chi fod wedi meddwl, 'Mae yna arbediad yn fanna allai fynd tuag at y deisebu electronaidd'? Mae o jest yn ymddangos i fi bod yna ddim llawer iawn o feddwl wedi mynd ymlaen ynglŷn ag ochr ariannol hyn i gyd. Mae yna ddyhead i wneud hyn, y llall ac arall, ond mae'n rhaid inni wybod faint mae o'n mynd i gostio.

Yes, but you haven't included that in the RIA, the fact that there are likely savings from getting rid of community polls. Shouldn't you have thought, 'There is a saving there that could go towards e-petitions'? It is seems to me that there isn't much thinking around the financial side of all of this. There's an aspiration to do such and such, but we need to know how much it is going to cost.

So, at the moment, community polls are very rare. Almost nobody's used them—less than once a year. So, actual costs are pretty low; potential costs are pretty high. So, the authority has to hold the potential to have a community poll, but the actual expenditure is pretty low. So, it's really difficult. We have tried really hard to think about it, but, again, it is pretty difficult to do that. It's got to be a best educated guesstimate, because we don't have any actual figures. But, of course, an authority would have to respond a community poll if it got one, so it would have to have the budget held in order to do that, but the actual expenditure is less.

What we're hoping is to have a system that generates much more engagement, but is actually much more certain for the authority in terms of what it might cost and what they might expect. Obviously, over the first year or so of operation, we'll have to monitor that closely. The idea is not that any local authority suffers because its engagement exercise is excellent and works; we'd be wanting to reward that very much by working with that authority and spreading it across Wales. So, I can assure you that there is no question of any authority that does this successfully being anything other than lauded and held up as an example across Wales. We desperately want to get more and better engagement for local people, local communities, in their local democracy.

A throi at ddarlledu cyfarfodydd ac yn y blaen, mae yna rai yn cwestiynu pa mor ymarferol ydy cael contract darlledu Cymru gyfan ac yn awgrymu bod yr elfen yma o'r asesiad effaith rheoleiddiol, bod yr amcangyfrif yn llawer iawn rhy isel. Y gymdeithas llywodraeth leol sydd wedi dweud hyn. Felly, pa mor realistig ydy o bod hyn yn mynd i ddigwydd?

Turning to the broadcasting of meetings and so on, there are some who question how practical it is to have an all-Wales broadcasting contract and suggest that this element of the RIA, that there is a significant underestimate. That's what the WLGA have said. So, how realistic is it that this is going to happen?

So, again, in our conversations with the WLGA, the issue isn't about the all-Wales contract, it's around the issue about what we mean by 'all meetings'. So, just to state upfront that what we're expecting to do is produce guidance that is pragmatic and practical about what we mean by 'all meetings'. So, if you're having an area meeting of a small sub-committee, we're not expecting you to have full broadcast equipment. We don't want to prevent an authority from going out into its community to hold meetings in community halls or whatever they are. So, we'll have a proportionate response to the broadcast.

I've said in the policy committee that we wouldn't want, for example, a failure of a webcam in a community hall to invalidate the proceedings of the meeting. What we'd like is for councils to work with us to make sure that as many people as possible could see that meeting afterwards. You'd be surprised how many people watch stuff streamed on the internet afterwards—

You'd be surprised how many times that would go down in somewhere like rural Gwynedd or Powys.

I wouldn't be surprised at all, Siân. You and I have been in many of those meetings. [Laughter.] So, we want to encourage it, but we'll want to be practical, of course. What we do want to be sure is that the principal council meetings, the principal cabinet meetings and the ones where the big decisions are made are definitely broadcast all the time, with good broadcasting material that can be accessed by people. But, again, we will have a set of guidance around proportionate and practical ways of ensuring that as many meetings as possible go ahead, but that the validity of the meeting is not affected by the failure of broadcasting equipment.

On the all-Wales contract, we're very happy to do it on an all-Wales basis and work with authorities to do that if that turns out to be the most cost-effective way, but we're very happy not to do that, and we're just going to work with the authorities to see what the best way of establishing that is. Actually, as an aside, and with apologies to the Minister who took over from me on the broadband roll-out, obviously, it will be affected by what's available in the area, and if we can work with the council to help roll that out as a result of this, then that's no bad thing either it seems to me.

09:45

You're taking powers to require councils to establish joint overview and scrutiny committees. Where do you envisage using these powers; how extensive can we expect that to be?

Again, we're not proposing a one size fits all here. We want local authorities to be able to work together to find what suits them best, but we also don't expect them to have endless repetitive meetings because they all want to have a scrutiny committee in each individual council, plus a joint overview one. We're expecting a pragmatic response to that, and that will be horses for courses. So, for some things, a joint overview and scrutiny committee for the whole of a regional transport strategy will be an appropriate thing to do, but in other cases each individual authority might need to scrutinise particular aspects of a regional plan because they impact separately on that council than—. In the Cardiff city deal area, you can well imagine that some things will impact Cardiff itself in a different way than they might Blaenau Gwent, for example. 

So, what we'll do is we'll agree with the councils what the overview and scrutiny arrangements look like, and then we'll have a monitoring regime in place to make sure that that scrutiny is effective and works, and then, we'll work with the councils to rearrange that if necessary.

Cardiff's proposed congestion charge comes to mind in that context. Councils already have these powers, though, don't they, under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011, of horses for courses? If it makes sense, they can establish these joint committees, but they haven't, to any significant extent, done so. In your costing you presume that if one of these is set up, the councils would close their current scrutiny committees looking at that area, hence there'd be no cost. And I can see if councils voluntarily chose to do that, and thought it was a good idea and a cost-effective way to scrutinise, but if Welsh Government comes in and imposes this on them when they haven't sought to do it themselves despite having the powers, is it really likely that they then voluntarily choose to cut back the scrutiny in their own councils, such that the RIA would have the zero cost you presume?

Well, I think it is likely, because, to be honest, if we've arrived at a point—. This is a backstop power, just let me start from there. There are many powers like this in the Bill where I think, if we use it, we've failed. We would have failed to have engaged properly with the WLGA and that council and its region. It's the end path of a badly going wrong system if we get to there. So, although we're taking backstop powers because you can never tell what might happen in the future, I would very much expect never to use it. But, if you were getting to here, you'd be looking at a failing council, so we would have a number of other things happening at the same time. So, I would imagine that we would have, by then, improvement and support arrangements in place, and boards and all the rest of it, because, if you're arriving at a point where a Welsh Minister is saying, 'Enough, you aren't doing this right; we're going to force you into this', that would not be the only thing going wrong in that council. So, it's an amalgam of powers.

So, I suppose the short answer, Mark, to your question is, yes, I would be expecting them to stop doing it themselves, because by then they'll have an improvement and support board in, saying that that's what they need to do. 

But, surely, we are in that situation of failure to integrate and have joint scrutiny, for example, with the proposed £2 congestion charge for anyone going into Cardiff city centre only to be paid by people in authorities outside Cardiff. Surely, if we had a joint scrutiny arrangement of transport powers, such a proposal wouldn't even have got off the ground. So, wouldn't you be looking to require such scrutiny?

It's still a proposal, just to be clear, before we set any other hares running. And one of the reasons that we're insisting on regional arrangements with some things is because we do think that local authorities, although they could have come together to do regional working, they haven't. 

So, the Cardiff city region, we are expecting will transform into a corporate joint committee under this arrangement, and then the arrangements of oversight and scrutiny will kick in. And, so, you would expect them then to have a regional joint committee for scrutiny arrangements for transport functions that have been devolved to that corporate joint committee arrangement, and, obviously, that is a transport arrangement. So, the Bill covers off that. So, that's actually why we're doing it.

Every local authority has told us that they're very happy to collaborate, but, actually, virtually every authority in Wales—I'm not saying all—but virtually every authority in Wales has, at some point, threatened to remove themselves from a regional arrangement or whatever because of a narrow thing happening in the authority. And the reason that we're insisting on them doing this, for the four areas we're insisting on it, is because those are the areas in which we've had the most problems over the years.

09:50

Thank you. Moving on to community councils and the requirement for them to have a training plan, in the RIA you suggest that you've looked at the costs of the training plan and establishing that, and I've no particular issues with how you've done those estimates, but I just wonder, if community councils are to have a training plan, surely that's going to lead to more training being undertaken. Isn't that the sort of purpose of it? So, why don't you cost any of the extra training that they're going to lead to?

The problem with doing anything in town and community councils is the diversity of the sector. So, we have 730-something community—

Seven hundred and thirty five. 

Seven hundred and thirty five community councils in Wales, and they range from a community council overseeing a small local resource like a community hall or a bench or whatever, to community councils running big towns with millions of pounds of budget. So, trying to find a one-size-fits-all scheme for them is an impossibility, and actually wouldn't work.

In the statutory guidance that goes alongside this, we'll be placing a strong emphasis on capability in core areas, which we know cause problems in town and community councils. So, good financial management and governance. Virtually every report we see on a town and community council has some problem with its governance or financial regulations. And we expect the council to take a view itself of that, and, obviously, we're not saying that because you've got a training plan, you have to train, but it's very—. We know, just from human behaviour, that if you have a training plan that says that you need training in various areas, it's very hard for the training not to follow. At some point, we may have to insist that they do it, but at this point, we're not saying that.

And, then, the problem with training is: is it individual? So, do I, the chair of the council, need to be trained in good financial management, or does the council need to be trained in good financial management? So, again, I'm not trying to slide out of it, but it's very difficult to estimate. So, what will be—

But the fact that something is difficult to estimate surely doesn't mean the best estimate is zero. And good financial management, and part of what we're doing here as the Finance Committee, is scrutinising this RIA, because you're meant to be giving your best estimate of the costs. And if you bring in a requirement to have training plans, the best estimate, surely, is that's going to lead to more training. I understand it's difficult to estimate how much, but, surely, it's clearly wrong to say that the best estimate is zero, as you've put in the RIA. 

So, we think that the councils should be themselves responsible for their training costs. So, if they identify training costs, they should pay for it themselves. However, in order to support the start-up for this, we're going to put about £0.5 million into the start-up process, but I don't expect that to be recurring. This is just to help them get started. And all councils, once they identify an ongoing training need, should be budgeting for that training need inside their budgets. 

And when you bring in a statutory requirement, you should be estimating what the costs of those are for those other public bodies that are going to have to bear those costs because of the law you're passing. Why haven't you done so?

As I say, we expect the town and community councils to pay for the training themselves as an ongoing—

Well, we expect them to be doing the training now. All we're doing is insisting that they have a training plan. The idea that all town and community councils shouldn't have to do any training now, and we're making them, is just not so.

But this is going to cause more training than currently, which will have a cost, which you've failed to estimate. 

But the cost isn't to us; the cost should be inside the budget of the town and community councils. And, as I say, I'm going to put some starter funding into that, because we're insisting on the clerks themselves being trained in order to get the power of general competence. Bear in mind that they don't have to go for that, so if they decide not to go for that, they don't have to do it. We're trying to encourage them to do that, and, also, some of the training has no cost anyway because we already fund the WLGA, or One Voice Wales, or whatever, to do that training. So, a lot of the training, as those of you who will have been involved in community council training will know, is provided by One Voice Wales, which we fund through a different mechanism. 

So, I genuinely do not expect it to have any ongoing costs from the point of view of the Government here. As I say, we are going to put around £500,000 into this start-up to get them going, and we very much hope that councils will want to go for the power of general competence. And, so, we do hope to increase the take-up of that, and we'll work with One Voice Wales to do that, who we fund via a different mechanism. 

I'm sure Finance Committee doesn't expect a regulatory impact assessment to be perfect, or at every stage we get one to include everything that it should. And one reason we do the scrutiny we do is to probe those issues. But, just for the record, Minister, do you accept that—notwithstanding that costs fall to other public bodies here, community councils—the RIA process should mean that the Government makes an estimate as best it can as to what the costs for them are, and in this case, you haven't done so?

09:55

Well, again, I can't reiterate enough, we don't think there are any. So—

Well, that's not what you said just now. You're now saying there are not any extra costs for community councils; before, you were saying there were. Which of those is it?

No, I'm saying there are not any additional, ongoing costs for community councils. They should be training now. All we're doing is asking them to put a training plan in place. We do expect that will lead to more training, but they should be budgeting for that. Separately, because of the requirements for the power of general competence, we are going to put some seed funding, if you like, on a one-off basis in, to set them off, and we fund a number of other organisations on an ongoing basis—nothing to do with this Bill—in order to provide that training. So, the costs for this Bill are none.

Thank you. Bearing in mind then the general picture and the general fracas around the framework of regional collaboration, and the importance within the RIA of the joint committees, and the request, I believe, to the WLGA for the 29 January date for volunteers to come forward—I'd be interested to know if anybody has come forward—and then the specification around whether it's ministerial or whether it's on a voluntary basis instigated, you said previously, in a different committee, I think, that joint committees would be expected around transport and strategic planning to be commenced swiftly, immediately. If that is the case, why aren't there any costings within this Bill?

Because we're co-producing it, is the bottom line. We don't want to pre-empt that. So, all the way through this Bill, we've worked in conjunction with the WLGA and its various committees and through the partnership council and regional sub-group to co-produce all of the guidance and the regulations that go with it. We're still agreeing the scope of the core functions. So, although we've put broad headlines—transport, strategic planning. I mean, transport is everything from closing a road for a street party to designing a monorail system for north-south transport. So, we're still agreeing what the core functions are underneath the big headlines. And we're working in partnership with local government and the WLGA to define those core functions, which will then be transferred automatically into the corporate joint committees. 

And the costs just depend on the scope and scale of the committee. And again, they're just start-up costs, just to be clear. So, these are existing functions already carried out by local authorities that will simply be transferred to a regional arrangement to be carried out. So, they are not duplicates, so we are not expecting an increase in cost. We do expect there to be start-up costs of one sort or another, but we don't expect that to be on any ongoing basis. Indeed, although this is—I emphasise—not in any way a finance-saving expedition, we would expect the costs to go down over time, as more things are done regionally, rather than in each individual local authority. But, at the moment, until we know the full scope of the function to be transferred and what the co-produced guidance and rights look like, it's very hard to put a cost on that. 

Bearing in mind that these have been spoken of for a while, and you want this at pace, and the word 'immediately' has been used, you're saying, basically, that there is no further information financially that you can provide at an RIA stage at this moment in time. 

Each corporate joint committee will have a set of regulations that establish it, and those regulations will have regulatory impact assessments, which will have the costs in them. So, the costs at that point will be known, because we will know what the regulations say, we will know what the functions are that are being transferred, and we will know what the initial set-up looks like for that. I do not anticipate that the costs will encompass anything other than the initial set-up of the transferring of that function, but until we know exactly what that is, we can't say. But, because of the structure of the Bill, and the fact that each one of those has a set of regulations and guidance that goes with it, the RIAs for those will be very specific in terms of what they cost. But the Bill itself doesn't have that, because it's an enabling Bill in order to be able to do that. 

Jenny just wants to come in, if she may. But I just remind Members we are nearing the end of our allotted time. We've got 15 seconds left. [Laughter.]

Okay. On the Public Accounts Committee, having scrutinised public services boards, there still seems to be a reluctance to grasp the nettle of doing things differently, because they're all saying, 'We can't do this because we haven't got any extra resources', but, 'You don't need extra resources, you've just got to reorganise.' So, I agree with your hypothesis, but how are we going to get people to think outside the box and actually do things differently?

10:00

One of the reasons we're doing it like this in the Bill is, as I said, because people have not done it voluntarily, and the regulations and the guidance that go with the establishment of a corporate joint committee will also set out what money transfers to the corporate joint committee as a minimum. I've been very emphatic that it's a minimum transfer. So, as each authority transfers its function into the corporate joint committee, there will be a minimum amount done on a formula that they must transfer with that function to the committee. So, it is a shared budget immediately, so we don't have the argument. There is nothing to prevent them putting more money into it if they want to, but they cannot put less. So, actually, it forces the issue.

Thank you. So, in regard to the seed funding that you spoke of, and I accept your view that there should be no additionality in the mid term in terms of cost, would there be any seed funding attached to any early volunteers? I didn't dig on this one, but: have we had any volunteers so far to date? Because obviously we've gone past 29 January.

We've actually commissioned a review that is due to conclude at the end of February, and I'm very happy to share that with committee when we get it, which is to inform discussions on the likely possible benefits of the set-up of a regional corporate joint committee, and to inform the development of the regulatory impact assessment. So, as soon as we have that, I'm very happy to share it with the committee.

Then finally, in regard to performance arrangements and suggestions that the Bill codifies what should already be being done, which seems to be a theme, how will you undertake that performance monitoring and how will the new arrangements differ?

The Bill sets out a minimum of one complete peer review assessment for each principal council in every electoral cycle; it's a minimum. We're very aware from the WLGA and the focus groups that self-assessment arrangements and panel assessments are common practice for the majority of councils across Wales already, but it's not consistent. So, what the Bill is doing is driving a consistent approach right across Wales, and it moves away from the old audit and compliance target-driven approach from the 2009 Measure, which we know has had almost no impact at all. It was very well intentioned, but it's had almost no impact on the performance of local authorities across Wales, partly because the information that the audit is producing for local government is always 18 months old at the absolute minimum. So, you'll all have seen the responses, which are: 'Well, that was then, and we've sorted it all out now.' So, it's not really driving improvement in the way that we all envisaged it might.

This is a completely different focus on meaningful assessment of whether a council as a whole needs to be looking beyond the basic requirements of its functions and duties and become self-improving and innovative on the basis of a peer review. So, a panel will be set up, including external experts and so on, drawn from the new improvement and support function that we're also putting back into the WLGA, and that panel might include people who are specifically asked to serve because of particular issues in a particular area, and then that panel will assist the council to do its review and its peer assessment and report back. So, we know that councils react far, far more to that kind of naming and shaming—sorry, that's not the right phrase, but you know what I mean.

Stimulus sounds better. [Laughter.] It drives local councillors, if what happens as a result of that is that they come out in a poor light, shall we say. We know that that works and it's immediate. You're not able to get out of it. You can't say, 'That was 18 months ago and we've sorted it all out now', or any of those sorts of things. It's immediate and they have to do it and it has the external impetus as well. There's no way they can get out of it, effectively. So, we know that it's working now where it's happening in Wales, but it's not consistent, and what the Bill does is drive it consistently across the whole piece.

There we are, thank you. I just want to ask a couple of questions to close, if that's okay? One is around the non-domestic rates. The RIA notes that between 1 per cent and 2 per cent of the revenue is lost every year through fraud and avoidance, and I think that equates to between £10 million and £20 million. So, it's quite a significant sum. So, do you expect billing authorities to be able to recover some of this money under the new powers? And if so, why haven't you included an estimate in the RIA?

10:05

Yes, we agree that it's around £10 million to £20 million lost to rates avoidance every year, and that's from the manual data collection exercise we did in the early stages of the policy development, a couple of years ago now. We want to repeat the exercise now that the new practices are established and then, once we've done that, we'll have a better estimate of whether the new practices have made any real impact on that. 

If you've read it, there were a lot of different things highlighted and the new practices are supposed to have covered those off. The Bill provisions form part of a wider package of measures to tackle avoidance, and then we've got to do a whole series of secondary legislation to go with the enabling provisions, which will be implemented in April 2020. So, we'll need to do another exercise before we can say what the impact will be. 

Okay. Finally, then, the post-implementation review. Clearly, you outline a number of evaluation methods and different areas in the Bill, but of course none of these activities are costed. You know what's coming next. [Laughter.] What resources do you think will be required for the post-implementation period?

We're planning entirely to use existing resources inside the local government department and the current resource available to the research budgets in the Welsh Government. As you know, we have a rolling programme of research going on, and we intend to include it as part of the rolling programme. 

Okay. There we are. Fine. Thank you very much, and thank you for the extra six minutes that we got of your time. We do appreciate your evidence. Clearly, we'll be considering the evidence we've received and will be reporting as part of the Stage 1 proceedings early next month sometime, isn't it?

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

Cynnig:

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

Motion:

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.

Mi wnawn ni, felly, symud i sesiwn breifat. Felly, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi), dwi'n cynnig bod y pwyllgor yn gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod. A ydy Aelodau i gyd yn fodlon â hynny? Pawb yn hapus. Diolch yn fawr. Fe awn i fewn i sesiwn breifat. 

We'll therefore move into a private session. So, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi), that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? Everyone's content. Thank you very much. We will go into private session. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:07.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:07.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru