- Posted by: Mike Hedges MS
- Categories: Latest News, Press Releases
MIKE HEDGES TELLS ASSEMBLY WHY HE SUPPORTS EXTENDING THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT FRANCHISE
Speaking from The Senedd, Swansea East AM, Mike Hedges said…. ‘ I wholeheartedly support the extension of Franchise as outlined by the Minister. I am on the record over many years as supporting the right of 16 and 17 year olds to vote; seeing this become law is quite thrilling.
On the other measures, I think these are an appropriate tidying up of the rules for local democracy. I see no reason why senior council officers should not be able to stand for election- if successful they will bring a wealth of new experience to local and national government.
Democracy can’t stand still, it must evolve. These new measurers begin the process of moving Democracy in Wales into the 21st Century.’
Three very positive statements on the Bill: extending the local government franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds may well get all of us as politicians paying more interest to the views of 16 and 17-year-olds than we have up until now—and I don’t exclude myself from that, I don’t exclude other Members in here either, and certainly not local authorities. 230
Secondly, enabling the addition of people to the electoral register without application where the electoral registration officer is satisfied they have reliable information the individual is eligible for registration: it’s not just your ability to vote, it’s all the other things that go with being on the electoral register.231
Allowing principal council employees and officers who wish to stand for election to resign their posts once they are elected, rather than when declaring candidacy: I think that’s a great step forward. And we both know people who’ve given up and then failed to get elected afterwards. But when is the resignation to take place—on being declared elected, or before they sign the declaration as an elected member? There can be four or five days in between those two dates. 232
I have concerns about the five-year cycle. We brought a five-year cycle in for the Assembly, but looking at a five-year cycle for local government—. And it was to fit in with the Westminster Parliament, which was going to have a fixed, five-year term—well, that turned out well, didn’t it? [Laughter.] But I think five years is too long. I think four years is about right. I think three years is probably better than five, but I think five years does stretch the elastic of democracy too far, and I really would hope that we’d both turn the Assembly elections, which are not your responsibility, and local authority elections, back to a four-year cycle. Because we don’t need to worry about Westminster; they seem to be running on a two-year cycle at the moment. [Laughter.]233
I welcome the proposed provision for principal councils and eligible community councils to have a general power of competence. The only worry I’ve had, and I’ve campaigned for the general power of competence for the whole of my political life, is that some English councils in the south of England have turned the general power of competence into an ability to buy up estates and shopping centres all over Britain. And I think there may well need to be some control over that general level of competence—being competent to do anything within your own area, not competent to go and borrow £30 million to go and buy a shopping centre somewhere. I don’t think any of us who have argued for a general power of competence in the past ever thought that’s what people would use their general power of competence for. 234
Is there a proposal to make it easier for local authorities to remove the three protected officers—the chief finance officer, the monitoring officer and the head of paid service? If I could call it the Caerphilly problem—. Because the difficulty, or the near impossibility, of having those three posts protected is such that, unless something is done, any other local authority who had a chief executive who was not prepared to go would be in exactly the same position as Caerphilly are and may well find themselves in further problems in the future. 235
On behaviour and putting group leaders in charge of behaviour—brilliant idea. The only problem is, as you and I both know, the people who behave the worst tend not to belong to groups. They tend to be individuals, independents of various hues. They are the ones who tend to behave the worst, in my experience of local government and, dare I say it, other places. And, really, have we got an opportunity to bring some sort of action against those, because, if they haven’t got a party leader, then who do you complain to?236
And, finally, on electoral systems, I think that’s a whole debate in its own right. If I can just say I fundamentally disagree with every single word Dai Lloyd said on it. The STV wastes more votes than any other system. The great election result in a council in Scotland: three seats—topped the poll 1,700, second 1,500, the third person elected 354, because both the two largest parties were frightened to put up two candidates in case they didn’t get anybody elected, and the other—. So, we really do need to start discussing this. And I think that—. And also—well, finally, I’ll say that I wish Dai Lloyd was right that people vote in party blocks, because my experience in Morriston is that they tended to be very much a pick and mix when they were picking the people to represent them and, thankfully, most of the time they picked me.