When the Well-being of Future Generations Act was published in 2015, citizen participation through “giving people equal opportunities to participate in decision making, to enable equal outcomes” was identified as a key element towards achieving the goal of creating a more equal Wales. But the recent Audit Wales report, ‘At Your Discretion’, recognises that “there is a growing group of citizens and council taxpayers who do not directly receive, or feel they benefit from, the work of their council. This presents a real challenge for councils in the future – to remain relevant to all their citizens.”
Is enough being done to support Welsh citizens to contribute to local democracy and influence the decisions that affect them? Data from the National Survey for Wales shows that in 2018-19 the percentage of Welsh citizens who felt that they could influence decisions affecting their local area was only 19%, and this is a 24% decrease since 2013/14, when 25% of citizens were recorded as feeling that they could influence decisions affecting their local area. And in 2019/20, only 14% of Welsh citizens felt they had an opportunity to participate in local authority decision-making.
The data is telling us that we are not achieving the Well-being Act goal of “A more equal Wales” though improved citizen participation. So there is a growing need to find better ways to enable Welsh citizens to use their voice to influence decision making in Wales, because, as time goes by, citizens are feeling more disenfranchised and disconnected from the work of their councils than ever before.
Doesn’t local government in Wales now have a duty to explore ways to develop and improve digital channels of communication between citizens and their local authorities? By doing this we would not only be able to help residents have more input on local decisions, but we could play some role in improving their overall sense of cultural well-being. This is an area that I feel strongly about and am really interested to explore further in the coming year, especially when user research could help to strengthen the relationship between councils, councillors and citizens.