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Roll out political education to all schools – National Assembly

13/03/2020

The National Assembly's Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee is today calling on the Welsh Government to roll out an adequate level of education on politics and democracy across all schools. The call comes ahead of proposals to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local government, in addition to the decision to lower the voting age for Senedd elections in 2021.

The Committee is currently considering proposals in the Welsh Government's Local Government Bill to extend voting rights in Council elections to 16 and 17 year olds, which would bring it in to line with Senedd elections. The Committee has heard concerns that without adequate political education and awareness-raising, 16 and 17 year olds may not use their right to vote.

The Welsh Government claims that early experience of voting could lead to a maintained engagement and interest in democratic politics by young people.

A majority of the Committee supports the proposal for votes at 16 in local elections.

Job-sharing

Amongst other measures in the Bill are proposal for certain senior councillors, namely Leaders and other Executive members, to job-share. The aim of this is to open up these roles to more people and improve diversity in local government.

The Committee is supporting this proposal and is recommending that the Welsh Government amend the Bill to enable a wider range of specific roles to job-share. It also asks it to explore the feasibility of enabling two individuals to jointly put themselves forward for election and carry out the role of a councillor on a job-share basis.

Bilingual delivery of elections

The Welsh Language Commissioner expressed concerns that election returning officers, the people responsible for running elections, are not subject to statutory language duties. The Commissioner said that since there are no statutory Welsh language obligations on electoral officers, the way in which those officers deal with the Welsh language is mixed, and therefore the experience for Welsh speakers is not equal to the experience of non-Welsh speakers.

The Committee is recommending that the Welsh Government takes the opportunity of this Bill to ensure consistency across Wales in the bilingual delivery of elections, in line with the principles set out in the Welsh Language Measure 2011.

John Griffiths AM, Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee:

"Young people I meet are often enthusiastic and politicised on a range of issues. I'm pleased that a majority of the Committee are in favour of extending the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds, it's exciting that Wales is leading the way in this area. However, it is critical that this is coupled with proper education on politics and democracy. Young people should know about their right to vote and the importance of exercising it.

"It is important that standing for election and fulfilling the role of a local councillor is something that's open to everyone. People have busy lives and taking on the role of a councillor can be difficult to juggle on top of work and family life. This is why we believe that job-sharing for councillors could be an interesting way of opening up the prospect of standing for election to more people. If we are serious about improving diversity on local councils then we must make it easier for people to stand for election and get involved.

"Our Committee is supporting the general principles of the Local Government Bill and is recommending that it is agreed by the Assembly."

Jess Blair, Director of Electoral Reform Society Cymru added:

"The extension of the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds offers a huge opportunity to create a new generation of informed and engaged young voters. This can only be done if we ensure much better levels of political education are delivered across Wales within schools, with additional support for teachers to deliver this.

"Our work with young people shows they are excited, enthusiastic and more than ready to vote. But that alone is not enough, we need to ensure they are supported with informative resources that can boost their confidence and get them ready to vote with much more knowledge than we ever had as first time voters. We are really pleased to see this being recommended by the Committee and hope the Welsh Government include these measures within the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill."

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