Local authorities (councils) play a central role in governing Wales as they provide the local leadership and services necessary for their communities.
Continued austerity, sustained budget cuts and an out of date finance system are all placing council services under huge financial pressure. Wales’ councils deliver over 700 local services, including:
- Education for example providing schools, transport to get children to school and providing opportunities for adult learning
- Housing such as finding accommodation for people in need and maintaining social housing
- Social Services for example caring for and protecting children, older people and disabled people
- Highways and Transport including maintaining roads and managing traffic flow
- Waste Management including collecting rubbish and recycling
- Leisure and Cultural Services for example providing libraries, leisure services and arts venues
- Consumer Protection such as enforcing trading standards and licencing taxis
- Environmental Health and Services for example making sure that the food provided in pubs and restaurants is safe to eat, and controlling pollution locally
- Planning including managing local development and making sure buildings are safe
- Economic Development for example attracting new businesses and encouraging tourism
- Emergency Planning for things like floods or terrorist attacks
As well as delivering local services, councils are by far the biggest employer in their area and contribute significantly to the local economy.
Councils have to provide certain statutory services. These are set out in legislation and cover services like social care, environmental health inspection and planning. They can provide other services such as leisure and art centres at their discretion.
Councils provide some services directly, work in partnership with other organisations to provide others and can commission organisations in the private and voluntary sectors to provide services on their behalf.
Councils are not motivated by profit although they do provide some trading services such as catering, and services for which there are private sector alternatives such as leisure centres.
Councils also have wider statutory duties, such as those to advance equality of opportunity and eliminate discrimination. They are also legally required to make sure that every decision they make takes account of the needs of future generations as well as the existing population.
Local councils work with a range of local and national partners and bodies in delivering local services, providing democratic representation and providing strategic leadership.
Many of these partners will be local third sector or community groups, but a range will be public sector bodies or other levels of government.
Councils also work with public service partners such as:
- Fire and Rescue Authorities
- Police and Crime Commissioners
- National Park Authorities
- National Resources Wales (NRW)
Councils work closely with neighbouring councils in designing, commissioning or delivering joint services. In this way they make sure that services are delivered in the most cost effective and efficient ways possible.
Councils also convene statutory partnerships for their area, known as Public Service Boards. These Boards include representatives from other public sector bodies and from the third and community sector. They undertake wellbeing assessments and produce a wellbeing plan during each municipal term.
Councils also work with the Wales Audit Office (WAO), Estyn and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) – these organisations audit, inspect and/or regulate local authorities and their services, and report on the standards of service, how they are governed and how they spend public money.