Consultation alongside Draft Local Government Bill urges increased use of e-petitions
Electronic broadcasts and e-petitions have been pushed up the agenda for local authorities in Wales with the publication of the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill.
While the thrust of the bill is to reduce the number of councils in the country from 22 to eight or nine, it includes a requirement for county councils to provide electronic broadcasts of any meeting that is open to the public.
It would have to be available as the meeting takes place, and for a “reasonable period” afterwards.
Electronic petitions are not mentioned in the bill itself, but the accompanying consultation document emphasises that they should be an important element of giving communities a more active role and advancing the digital agenda in Welsh government.
It says that, while they are increasingly used by the Welsh Assembly and in national and local government in England and Scotland, no Welsh councils are known to have an e-petitioning process in place.
In response, it proposes that the bill should include a clause to repeal the existing legislation on community polls and replace it with a requirement for “principal councils” to set up an e-petition system.
The plan to reduce the number of councils confirms the preference of the Welsh Government announced in June. It comes in response to the prospect of local government having to operate on sharply reduced revenues, a scenario which is expected to become more difficult with tomorrow’s announcement on the UK government’s Spending Review.
The Welsh Government said the reorganisation of local authorities would pay for itself within two or three years and provide net savings of up to £650 million over 10 years.
Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews said: “There is a real opportunity here for local government to make significant savings for taxpayers and if councils work together, plan well and involve their staff there is the opportunity for savings even greater than the £650 million we have identified.
“This means more money for front line public services, more money to invest in communities and more money to support local economic prosperity.”
The proposed reduction in the number of councils implies an approaching shake-up of the local government IT estate it Wales. Depending on the timing, it could complicate the retendering of existing contracts as they expire, and affect the medium term prospects for shared services arrangements.
The consultation is set to run until 15 February and the bill is scheduled to be introduced to the Welsh Assembly in autumn 2016.
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