The introduction of powers in the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 for local authorities to establish corporate joint committees provides an important new way for local authorities to work together.
Local authorities are already familiar with using powers in other legislation to work through joint committees. Many have done so successfully on initiatives such as shared service arrangements and regeneration programmes involving funding from external sources. However, previous legislation did not make it possible to establish joint committees with their own legal personalities, which limited the actions that they could take to implement their decisions. For example, they could not employ staff or enter into contracts. If such actions were required, they would be done by one of the authorities involved or another legal entity would be established, such as a company.
The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 provides for a different type of joint committee. The 2021 Act gives principal councils the power to apply to the Welsh Ministers, asking for regulations to be made to establish a corporate joint committee to exercise a function of the local authorities concerned.
Before making an application to the Welsh Ministers, principal councils must consult:
The Welsh Ministers are also required to carry out consultation on a draft of any regulations they propose to make to establish a corporate joint committee. Consultation is required with the persons mentioned above and also with the principal councils concerned.
The Act requires that joint committee regulations must require that the senior executive member of the principal councils for the areas covered by a joint committee are members of the joint committee. The regulations must also provide for membership from the relevant national park authority if the joint committee covers a national park area and will be taking on the function of preparing a joint development plan.
Other provisions which may be included in joint committee regulations include:
Principal councils may apply to the Welsh Ministers to amend or revoke joint committee regulations. There is also provision in the Act for supplementary provisions to be included in joint committee regulations or in regulations which amend or revoke them.
Staff who are affected by the establishment of corporate joint committees will have protection from a requirement in the Act that regulations relating to joint committees which contain provision for the transfer of staff must apply the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE).
Principal councils and corporate joint committees must have regard to any guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers relating to corporate joint committees.
The extent of detail that the Act contains for future regulations and the corporate status of joint committees means that there should be potential for local authorities to have joint committees without the practical limitations which have affected their use in the past.
As well as responding to applications from local authorities, the Welsh Ministers also have the power to make regulations to establish a corporate joint committee even where no request has been made but this is restricted to functions relating to improving education; transport; preparing a strategic development plan or the economic well-being function. Before making such regulations, the Welsh Ministers are required to consult:
The Welsh Ministers have already exercised their powers to make regulations to establish regional corporate joint committees for Mid Wales, North Wales, South East Wales and South West Wales. These committees will exercise functions relating to strategic development planning, regional transport planning and economic well-being. The regulations provide the committees with power to co-opt participants as members of sub-committees or to participate in other activities of the joint committees. The joint committees will be able to specify matters on which co-opted participants will be able to vote. This is an interesting development and may help local authorities avoid the complexities they have faced previously when seeking to involve people from other organisations in the work of joint committees established under other legislation which restricts voting to members of the local authorities.
It will be interesting to see if local authorities make use of their powers under the 2021 Act to seek the establishment of further corporate joint committees.