Local Democracy Week RCT?
Local Communities: Putting Democratic Resilience at the Forefront
RCT Council is comprised of 75 Elected Councillors who set the overall policies and budget for the Council as outlined below?
The Council has a Cabinet which is made up of just 9 Executive Members (Councillors) who are responsible for creating policies and making key decisions on the way the Council serves its residents.
This year’s Local Democracy Week was 9 to 15 October and the European Local Democracy Week takes place annually on the week of 15 October. Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, in line with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and other Local Authorities, are marking the occasion by highlighting the political process in the Council Borough.
Local Democracy Week takes place on a national and local level and aims to encourage the public―particularly underrepresented groups such as young people, ethnic minorities, and disabled people―to get involved in the democratic process. Over the next week, the Council will demonstrate how the local community can get involved in democracy and provide information on social media to inform individuals on why democracy is important.
The Welsh Government defines local democracy as every person having an ‘equal opportunity to influence change…ensuring that local policies and services reflect the needs and preferences of local communities.’ The theme for this year’s Local Democracy Week is Local Communities: Putting Democratic Resilience at the Forefront. This means focusing on local action to encourage the public to engage in local democracy and strengthen the democratic process.
Cllr. Maureen Webber, Deputy Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said: “We strongly encourage our residents to involve themselves in local democracy.
For Local Democracy? Week this year, the Council are focused on providing information to the community and informing individuals on what democracy means, how it affects them, and how they can get involved by having their say. We particularly encourage younger people, ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities to involve themselves in the democratic process, as these groups are underrepresented.
By collaborating with our residents and engaging with the community, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has a remarkable catalogue of achievements and will continue to encourage people to contribute to our services. Together, we can make a positive difference and a better future for all?
Democracy is an important aspect in everyone’s lives and is central to society. Whether you realise it or not, democracy shapes the way you live by empowering communities to have a voice and influence local services. Rhondda Cynon Taf Council delivers over 800 services to its residents. These include adult and children social care, public health, education, bin collections, and even registering births, deaths, and marriages, and much more. Local government is an essential element of any community.
Cllr. W Jones, Chair of Democratic Services Committee, said: “Democracy within Local Government is so important and as a Council we have always welcomed the voice of our local residents and businesses.
“This week, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council are focused on providing information on the different ways individuals can get involved in the democratic process, and how local involvement can shape the future.
“As a Council, through the Democratic Services Committee we have proactively taken forward work in respect of Diversity in Democracy and as a Council we have adopted a ‘Diversity Declaration’ reflecting Rhondda Cynon Taf Council as Diverse Council, a position encouraged by the WLGA across all Councils in Wales.
“As the Chair of the Democratic Services Committee, I strongly encourage people to engage with local democracy. Help us become a more inclusive Council by representing the needs of your local community.”
How does the Council work?
Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council was formed in 1996 and saw the merging of the former Mid Glamorgan districts of Rhondda, Cynon Valley, and Taff Ely, and is the third largest Local Authority in Wales. The Council is made up of 75 elected Councillors who represent residents from 46 wards.
The role of a Councillor is to ensure the interests of individuals within their ward are heard, and to function as a spokesperson for that area. Councillors engage with constituents through various methods such as open surgeries, community walk throughs and social media, to ensure residents are given the opportunity for their voice to be heard.
As part of the Council’s aim to promote local democracy, the council has created a video of elected Members talking about democracy, what it means to them, and why it is important:
The Council also has a Cabinet (sometimes referred to as the Executive) which is made up of 9 Executive Members (Councillors) who are responsible for creating policies and making key decisions on the way the Council serves its residents. This is similar to how the UK Central Government and Welsh Government both have a Cabinet. Alongside Full Council (all 75 Members sitting together collectively) they have responsibility for local Council services.
RCT’s Cabinet comprises of a Leader, a Deputy Leader, and 6 other Members, all with their own portfolio covering each of the following areas of the Council’s functions:
- Infrastructure & Investment
- Council Business
- Public Health & Communities
- Health & Social Care
- Environment & Leisure
- Education, Youth Participation & Welsh Language
- Climate Change & Corporate Services
- Development & Prosperity.
The Leader of the Council is appointed at the Council’s Annual General meeting. At this meeting the Leader will advise on the appointment of the rest of their Cabinet.
How does the Council make important decisions?
The Cabinet, local Councillors and members of the Council’s Senior Leadership Team work together to make important decisions regarding Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s services. Every month, several important committees and meetings take place where these decisions are deliberated upon and approved or rejected.
Scrutiny Committees play a key role in the decision-making processes by acting as ‘critical friends’ who scrutinise and challenge the decisions taken forward by the Cabinet and by Officers within the Senior Leadership Team. These committees are made up of non-Executive Elected Members and Co-opted Members. The Council has 4 key Scrutiny Committees, these are:
- Overview & Scrutiny Committee
- Education & Inclusion
- Community Services
- Climate Change, Prosperity & Frontline Services.
How are Councillors elected?
Councillors are elected by the residents of their specific wards during local elections to represent the community’s views. Each Councillor will run an election campaign, during which time they will go out into the community and connect with residents to gain support for office. Councillors are also required to state whether they are independent or part of a political party and will usually outline the pledges that they hope to fulfil throughout their time in office. At each Local Government election, Councillors are elected for a 5-year term. Councillors can be re-elected for consecutive terms and therefore can hold office for more than 5 years.
This system of democracy ensures that Councillors are decided by the people and encourages diversity and inclusivity by considering the views of residents.
Utilising your right to vote and/or becoming a Councillor are great ways to become an active part of the democratic process. To become a Councillor in Rhondda Cynon Taf, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 18 years old
- A British Citizen, eligible Commonwealth citizen, or a qualifying foreign citizen
- Meet a set of criteria around living and working in the local authority area you are nominated for.
Last month, Democratic Services attended the RCT Council and Partners Jobs Fair 2023 in Pontypridd Library to promote opportunities to vote and the role of a Councillor. The aim was to reach out to hard-to-reach citizens and promote local democracy information. The fair included a quiet hour for individuals with additional needs, encouraging inclusivity and ensuring reach to a wider audience.
How can you have your voice?
The easiest and most important way that you can voice your opinions and get involved in democracy is by registering to vote. Registration takes less than five minutes and can be completed entirely online, or in writing. All you need is your name, address, national insurance number, and date of birth.
You can register to vote once you turn 14 in Wales, but you cannot vote in local Council and Senedd elections until you turn 16. For UK General Elections, you must be 18 to vote.
Did you know…
If you are a student and you spend time at two different addresses, you can register to vote AND vote at both addresses
- You do not always need to vote in person by applying for a postal vote or proxy vote
- Being on the electoral register may increase your credit score, which is essential for applying for phone contracts, car finance, mortgages, and more!
To register, and for more information, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
You do not need to provide a form of ID when voting in local and Senedd elections in Wales.
However, as of May 2023, the UK government has mandated that you must evidence photographic ID when voting in general parliamentary elections and local elections in England. You can find details of acceptable forms of ID here: https://www.gov.uk/how-to-vote/photo-id-youll-need
If you are a student, the National Union of Students (NUS) have teamed up with CitizenCard to offer students a FREE voter ID. Find out more here: https://www.nus.org.uk/photo-id
Other ways to get involved
There are also several other ways you can get involved in your local democratic process; some include:
- Attending Meetings – All Cabinet, Council and scrutiny meetings are open for public attendance, as well as numerous other Committee meetings such as Planning and Development Committee. The Council operate a hybrid way of working to allow flexibility for Elected Members and public speakers to join meetings either physically at the Council Chamber or virtually through a virtual platform. These meetings are now livestreamed, with minutes and decision notices available to view following the meetings on the Council website, providing a record of the decisions taken forward.
- Scrutiny – The Scrutiny process allows elected Members to deliberate upon the services the Council provides and challenge key decisions that have been made. These are also opportunities for members of the public to voice their views.
- Public Questions – If you live or work within the County Borough you can apply to speak in meetings and committees on agenda items you are passionate about. Details of how to get involved can be found on our website and through our Public Participation Strategy, which will be considered by Council in October.
- Public Consultations ‒ The Council conducts several public consultations throughout the year that invites members of the public to voice their views on resource allocation and priorities. Information on past and present consultations is available here.
- Join the Citizens’ Panel ‒ The Citizens’ Panel is a group of residents that inform the Council on the needs, views, experiences, and expectations of the community. This is a fantastic opportunity for individuals to get involved in shaping the Council’s services and in local democracy. You can join here.
- Petitions – Individuals, community groups, and organisations can take part in democracy by petitioning. Petitions typically raise issues of public concern to elected Members but can also be presented by a Councillor on behalf of their ward. Petitions must meet a set of criteria to be considered. The Council are due to consider further advancements to the petitions criteria at its October meeting to allow the people’s view to be further highlighted through potential consideration of petitions at Committee meetings.
The Council also has a Youth Forum, run by the Youth Engagement and Participation Service (YEPS) that offers the young people of RCT access to a variety of FREE activities. These are open and available to people ages 11 to 25 and help encourage young people to get involved in their community.
The Welsh Government have recently allocated a grant for ‘democratic education’ to colleagues at Innovate Trust, as part of the Government’s Democratic Engagement Grant. Innovate Trust are a charity that provides support to individuals with learning difficulties, their families, and carers, to enable them to live as independently as possible.
As part of the grant, Innovate Trust have launched their yearlong project ‘Your Vote Matters’, which aims to encourage individuals to get involved with local democracy through the provision of political awareness workshops. The project hopes to encourage people with learning disabilities to register and participate in voting at local and national elections and have their voices heard.
The project covers a range of topics from what democracy is, how to register and vote, what local government means, to individual’s voting rights, making independent decisions, and why democracy is important. As a Council, we look forward to working with Innovate Trust on this important topic and learning how we can better engage and promote democracy to everyone to ensure we build a diverse democracy for the future.
For more information please visit their website: https://innovate-trust.org.uk/services/voting-and-learning-disabilities-your-vote-matters/