Local Government can be a strange beast at times but I think it is fair to say that the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic has shown what can be delivered when those closest to the ground are engaged, willing and trusted to get on with delivering what is needed with our communities writes Cllr Sam Rowlands.
I have had the privilege of being elected to Conwy County Borough Council for the past 12 years, having won my first election in 2008 as a 21 year old. Since then I have held a number of roles, most recently being elected to lead the Council since June of last year. Throughout this time I have found it fascinating that it is so often local government who are blamed for so much by so many whilst having to manage increasing levels of expectation with decreasing levels of funding.
Our manifesto for December’s general election stated Local government is the bedrock of our democracy… and for me, as I’m sure like you, this is a huge part of what makes me Conservative; decision making being made at the most local level possible, something we have seen taking place so clearly through this pandemic.
Let’s be clear, an incredible number of announcements made by national government throughout the pandemic have had to be delivered by local government; from the distribution of grants to business right the way through to how schools closed and are starting to re-open. Here in Conwy, I’ve been particularly proud with how we have supported those who are most vulnerable, especially the elderly and those who have been shielding. With around 5,000 of my residents in receipt of a letter advising them to shield, we knew we had to ensure a solid system of support was in place for those that needed it.
We set up a community support network which at its peak was receiving around 700 calls a week with requests for help, this type of support would not have happened if it wasn’t for local government working with local volunteers and providing for those that need it at a ground level. It is local government and locally elected councillors who deliver for our communities, this is why we must cherish this level of democracy.
In Wales there is a real risk of this local democracy being chipped away, eroded and eventually done away with as the Welsh Government continues to pursue an ever regionalised agenda. While there may be some perceived benefits of efficiency with this approach (although I’d suggest much would be lost through lack of agility), there is the ever further distancing of the electorate from the elected. This distancing creates a risk of dis-engagement and natural disenfranchisement of our residents. Any regionalisation must always happen for the benefit and success of the communities in which we serve, not for lines on a map to be arbitrarily expanded.
Local democracy in Wales is alive and well, it has huge potential to deliver with our communities and must be supported as such. This means we need to see Conservatives standing and supporting these elections, it is only by electing Conservatives that we will make the difference in those areas which may be more frustrating for our party. In addition it means, with Local Government being devolved, doing everything possible to return a significant number of Conservative members to the Senedd at next years’ election.
Finally, let me encourage you to seek out where you can make a difference in upcoming elections to ensure local government continues to deliver and remains the bedrock of our democracy.
Councillor Sam Rowlands is the Leader of Conwy County Borough Council.