Local Government is geographically close but all too often emotionally remote from the needs, hopes and aspirations of individuals and communities across Wales.
Although it is true that Councils provide a range of services, from schools and social services to libraries and swimming pools, that score consistently high in customer satisfaction polls there is much that needs to be done to reinvigorate Town and County Halls if they are to face head-on the challenges of the future.
Since becoming Shadow Minister for Local Government in July of last year I have put transparency and accountability at the heart of our vision for Local Government. I believe that residents want to see truly transparent and accountable local government, to simply tick a box once every four or five years is no longer good enough. You will often find that declining voter participation, apathy and low turnout stem from a feeling that the system is not delivering for them and these are issues that urgently need addressing.
My reasons for arguing so strongly for greater transparency and accountability in Local Government are simple. Transparency breeds greater accountability, and you cannot have true accountability without transparency. They are not mutually exclusive concepts, but rather exist symbiotically, and I believe that local government and democracy in Wales need a healthy dose of both.
The question for all of us is how to ensure that greater transparency and accountability guides everything that our local councils do. I have argued since taking up my post that councils should be encouraged to implement a set of policies that would inject greater confidence in the system. They include publishing items of council expenditure online, filming and broadcasting council proceedings live online, and reforming the rules that allow Councils and Cabinet committees to turf out press and public and conduct their proceedings in secret.
On this last point, I was shocked to learn recently about the excessive use of the so-called â€œexempt items procedureâ€ by Local Authorities in Wales. In some instances councils in Wales are entering private session in as many as 80% of meetings, a practice that needs to stop and Welsh Conservatives will be looking into bringing forward proposals for reform in the coming months.
The Senedd building in Cardiff is essentially a great glass box designed not only to offer AMs, staff and civil servants excellent panoramic views of Cardiff Bay but also to allow everyone â€“ tourists, schoolchildren, visitors and voters â€“ a chance to see democracy in action. Transparency in its most literal sense. Now it is time to do the same with Local Government, lift the veil of secrecy and empower our communities, residents and the individual.