2021 Senedd Election – what are the parties saying about community power in Wales?
Voters across Great Britain will head to the polls on 6 May 2021 for important national and local elections. But what are the parties saying about community power and reforming local government? We’ve read the manifestos so you don’t have to. Part 1: the Senedd election in Wales.
Welsh Labour has been the largest party in the Welsh Parliament since the first election took place in 1999. Although the party faces stiff competition this year from Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives, it is highly likely that Welsh Labour will emerge from the 2021 Senedd election with the most seats – but not the 31 seats needed to form a majority government.
Welsh Labour’s 2021 manifesto generally contains commitments to progress existing policies sprinkled with a few headline-grabbing initiatives.
The party promises to pay all social care staff in Wales the Real Living Wage and explore where services and contracts can be returned to a “strengthened public sector” (p.60).
The ban on local authorities setting up new municipal bus companies will be lifted, and Welsh Labour will work with local authorities on new, coordinated regional transport plans. The party will also “empower communities to have a greater stake in local regeneration” (p.25) – no further details are provided – and continue to develop its plans to establish a Community Bank for Wales.
Plaid Cymru also supports the Community Bank but goes several steps further with its community power pledges.
Plaid Cymru’s manifesto includes commitments to introduce a consultative citizens’ assembly for rural communities, a new Community Rights Act – presumably on planning rights as it appears in that section – and a Community Wealth Fund to “empower communities” to buy local assets with the support of a “new national service” (p.73).
The party also intends to
- establish a National Health and Care Service in Wales
- require all new renewable energy projects above 5MW to have up to 33% community and local ownership
- and “create a new system of empowered Community and Town Councils” with more planning and local economic development powers (p.30).
Business rates and council tax will be replaced with “a new and fairer land and property tax” (p.73), and a “needs-based formula” will determine allocations of the Welsh Government’s grant to local authorities (p.74).
The Welsh Conservatives have focused their community power pledges on planning and asset transfer.
The Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto includes commitments to “empower communities to establish neighbourhood plans” and introduce a Community Ownership Fund and Right to Bid to help communities take over local assets (p.34).
Intriguingly, the Welsh Conservatives’ legislative programme includes a “Community Empowerment Bill” (back cover), but no details are provided on its purpose and contents.
The party will also reform the local government funding formula to take the needs of rural councils into account, enable a council tax freeze for at least the first two years of the five-year Senedd term, and introduce council tax referendums when council tax rises go above 5 per cent.
Welsh Liberal Democrats and UKIP Wales
Minority parties in the last Welsh Parliament, the Welsh Liberal Democrats and UKIP Wales will do well to secure any seats in the 2021 election.
Should they do so, the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ manifesto contains pledges to
- pass a Community Empowerment Act (p.35)
- introduce a Community Right to Buy to bring empty shops back into use
- launch a programme of citizens’ assemblies
- begin amalgamating town and community areas into “meaningful and efficient units for public service delivery” (p.61)
- and explore devolving further services and functions from local authorities to “the lowest possible level” (p.61).
UKIP Wales’ manifesto states that “after 24 years it is quite legitimate” to hold another referendum on Welsh devolution (p.3). The party proposes that the Welsh Grand Committee of Wales’ MPs could have an “enhanced role” in the nation’s governance if referendum voters decided against devolution (p.4).
Of the parties that did not exist or did not succeed in the last Welsh Parliament election, the Abolish The Welsh Assembly Party is the only one likely to gain seats in 2021.
The party’s policy statement underlines its goal to “abolish” the Welsh Parliament, which would see all tax powers – including legal powers over council tax – returned to Westminster and the Welsh NHS incorporated into the English NHS.
Reform UK – formerly known as the Brexit Party – pledges in its contract to keep but reform the Welsh Parliament and halve the number of local authorities in Wales.
The manifesto of the Wales Green Party proposes “increased citizen engagement” through citizens’ juries and people’s assemblies (p.8), the immediate introduction of a Universal Basic Income, and more community participation in planning decisions.
What do the manifestos tell us about the prospects for community power in Wales?
All the parties leading the polls mention empowering communities.
And although Welsh Labour’s manifesto doesn’t include a community rights/community empowerment bill, its potential coalition partners (Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats) and the likely main opposition party (the Welsh Conservatives) all support the idea in their manifestos.
With Welsh Labour unlikely to secure a majority, it therefore looks plausible that the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament will pass its first piece of dedicated community power legislation within the next five years.
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