Councillor Debbie Wilcox, Leader of Newport City Council, has been appointed Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association.
Cllr Wilcox is the first woman Leader of the WLGA and her appointment was confirmed by the WLGA Council at the Annual General Meeting held in Cardiff on Friday 23 June.
Cllr Wilcox said:
“I am privileged and proud to be elected as the WLGA's Leader. I follow in the footsteps of former leaders who have made a huge contribution to public life and to the communities of Wales.”
“I have previously publicly stated what a breath of fresh air it has been to be involved in the WLGA over the past few years. The WLGA is a cross-party forum, where mature, constructive, consensus politics sees us speaking with one voice as a 'family' of local government promoting local democracy and the value of local services.”
“Local services are a force for good, they are the cement which lock communities together but they are struggling and it is our duty to campaign for them and protect them. That means making a loud and noisy case for public services in the corridors of both Westminster and Cardiff. It means arguing that the philosophy of austerity that has dominated political discourse since 2008 has collapsed, to the point where hardly anyone still believes it.”
Cllr Wilcox, who has led Newport City Council since May 2016, added:
“My vision for local government is that it should be treated with respect by all other levels of government; it provides a voice for communities, delivers vital public services and is a major player in the devolved governance of Wales. I have already had positive discussions with Cabinet Secretary Mark Drakeford AM on how we can continue to build constructive relationships based on trust and mutual respect and deliver a common agenda based on improving outcomes for our citizens.”
“I also want to reassert local democratic leadership, and champion the primacy of elected councillors as our community leaders. Democratically accountable councillors should be setting the agenda, not auditors, inspectors or civil servants.”
“We however need to demonstrate this leadership - we need to get our own house in order. Councils need to step up and provide constructive challenge to themselves and to each other, to prevent service weaknesses becoming service failures, to provide assistance and mutual support to drive improvement and, where appropriate, to collaborate to ensure that services across Wales are sustainable and fit for purpose.”
“Furthermore, as a woman and a champion of gender equality in local government I have to admit to considerable frustration. Too often in councils the principle of equality is trumped by appointments made in rotation, through connections rather than by merit. We need to have an honest conversation about why the barriers to women’s representation still exist, but most importantly not just talk about the challenges but actually do something about them. Local government is nothing unless it reflects those communities that it represents. As the first women leader of the WLGA I will push diversity to the top of our agenda.”
Prior to becoming Newport City Council’s Leader, Cllr Wilcox was a cabinet member for education and young people and previously cabinet member for leisure and culture. She has been a councillor for the Gaer ward since 2004 and is a former teacher of 30 years. Cllr Wilcox succeeds Cllr Bob Wellington OBE, the former leader of Torfaen County Borough Council, as WLGA Leader. Cllr Wellington retired from local government at the end of last term.
Other appointments made at the WLGA Council included Cllr Aaron Shotton (Flintshire) and Cllr Rob Stewart (Swansea) as the WLGA's Deputy Leaders and Cllr Andrew Morgan (Rhondda Cynon Taf) continuing in his role as the WLGA's Presiding Officer. Other Group appointments also included Cllr Hugh Evans (Denbighshire) as WLGA Independent Group Leader, Cllr Peter Fox OBE (Monmouthshire) as WLGA Conservative Group Leader and Cllr Emlyn Dole (Carmarthenshire) as WLGA Plaid Cymru Leader. A range of Spokespersons and Deputy Spokespersons were also elected to lead the work in each of the WLGA’s policy areas.