Audit Wales report highlights governance concerns for national park authorities

Audit Wales report highlights governance concerns for national park authorities

National Park Authorities (NPAs) in Wales should improve on a number of areas including member officer relations, as well as the appointment and the diversity of members, Audit Wales has said.

In a report on the governance of NPAs, the independent public body said that while it found the governance model provides a clear framework for the bodies, “there are opportunities to strengthen their governance arrangements”. 

It also warned that “limited accountability and inconsistencies in how elected members are nominated could undermine good governance”.

In Wales, each NPA is formed of 18 members, two-thirds of whom are elected members from councils within the NPA’s boundary. 

The remaining third are appointed by Welsh Ministers.

Criticising the appointment process, the report highlighted a lack of clarity and inconsistency in how local authority members are nominated to sit on NPAs – and a lack of diversity among local authority NPA members. 

According to the watchdog, in some NPAs, priority consideration for appointments is “not always given to the skills and attributes” necessary to contribute to good governance.

Furthermore, the report said that members are often nominated to NPAs despite their ward being outside the NPA area.

To remedy this, Audit Wales recommended that appointments should be made according to the political balance within the local authority and that it is desirable for those nominated to represent wards wholly or partly situated within the national park boundaries.

On diversity, the report noted that there are just 10 female local authority members appointed to NPAs compared to 26 male local authority members.

Elsewhere, the report found that, despite there being “constructive” working relationships between members and officers in NPAs, “members do not always display confidence in providing strategic direction and robust challenge to officers”.

Additionally, not all members are clear on their roles and are not able to contribute fully to decision-making processes, the report said.

The report also called for improved accountability for NPA members, warning that the extent to which members are being held accountable for their contribution to the governance of NPA is “unclear”. 

It said the Welsh Government, NPAs and constituent local authorities should work together to develop an accountability framework for all NPA members that evaluates their contribution to the NPA, and can be used to help to target support and development to enable NPA members to be effective in their role.

Concerns were also raised around the relationship between NPAs and Welsh Corporate Joint Committees (CJCs). 

CJCs were introduced in 2022 and have powers over transport policy, strategic development plans and the economic well-being of their respective areas. 

Wales hosts four CJCs (South East Wales CJC, South West Wales CJC, North Wales CJC and Mid Wales CJC), which are made up of the leaders of the councils within the specific region and the NPAs that sit within that region. 

The NPA’s role in a CJC is limited only to strategic planning matters, and while NPAs can work on other strands, this has only happened in one CJC so far, the report stated.

“This risks curtailing NPAs’ influence in key areas,” Audit Wales said. 

“This is an issue because, as highlighted in our recent reviews on sustainable tourism, the demand on NPAs is significantly impacted by matters within the wider remit of CJCs, such as travel infrastructure to support the visitor economy,” the report stated. 

Problems also occur where NPA areas straddle multiple different CJC areas, as in the case of Bannau Brycheiniog NPA, which is part of three CJCs and two Public Service Boards (PSBs).

“Through our interviews we found that this causes a considerable draw on senior officers’ capacity,” the report said. 

It added: “Coupled with NPAs’ limited role and influence in some statutory partnerships, this raises questions about the value of attending in the broader context of reducing resources and capacity pressures.”

Adam Carey

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Team @ AberdareOnline

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