A new law to give 16- and 17-year-olds in Wales the vote in local council elections has been unveiled by the Welsh government.
The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill, which is due to be introduced before the National Assembly for Wales today, provides for the establishment of a reformed legislative framework for local government elections, democracy, performance and governance.
As well as giving the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds, the Bill also aims to empower Wales’ 22 principal councils to decide for themselves which voting system to use – First Past the Post (FPTP) or Single Transferable Vote (STV).
Described as the ‘biggest change’ in the Welsh electoral system for 50 years, the Bill will enable job sharing in the council executive and help councillors to remotely attend council meetings and have periods of family absence.
Principal councils will also be allowed to merge voluntarily.
‘We believe in strong local government,’ said the minister for housing and local government Julie James, who will introduce the Bill to the National Assembly later today.
‘We want it to thrive, we want the people of Wales to feel well-represented and supported by modern public services, and we want the relationship between local government and the Welsh government to be mature and focused on our shared agenda – delivering better public services for everyone, helping people who need support, when and where they need it most.’
The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill will also enable councils to pilot reforms to local government elections, such as holding elections on different days and having polling stations in different places, after 2022.
Local government will move to fixed five-year terms between elections and all foreign citizens lawfully living in Wales will have the opportunity to vote in and stand in local elections.
Electoral Registration Officers will also be granted the power to automatically add people to the electoral register.
‘This bill is introduced at a time when austerity continues, and relationships and technology are changing the way public services interact with each other, and with the communities they serve,’ said Ms James.
‘So 20 years on from devolution, this is a significant Local Government Bill which reflects the journey of devolution and will deliver a major package of reforms, including local government electoral reform.
‘It aims to provide local government with new ways to support and serve their communities in these challenging times, while reinvigorating local democracy here in Wales.’