On the 5th May 2022, voters will once again head to the polls to elect 1,234 local councillors in 762 wards, across all 22 local authorities in Wales. Against a backdrop of boundary changes, voting reforms and new battleground areas, we take a look at what to expect in this election.
New and changed wards
Following recommendations from the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales, local councils have seen the most significant alteration to ward boundaries in history. In the majority of cases, the Welsh Government approved every recommendation of the reports. For the likes of Cardiff, this will increase the number of councillors from 75 to 79, and for electors in Ynys Mon in the north, councillors will increase from 30 to 35 members.
Across Wales, the Welsh Government accepted 757 recommended wards, and made modifications to 5 recommendations (excluding ward names), after a review that lasted 4 years. For many candidates, this means that they will be fighting changed wards or new boundaries altogether.
A ‘polling week’ for some
In this election, the Welsh Government is trialling a new voting system which will allow electors in four local authorities to vote early. These councils include Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, and Torfaen. In these areas, central polling stations for the whole local authority, such as the Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone in Ebbw Vale, will be open in the week leading up to polling day. In Bridgend, polling stations in wards that typically have low turnouts will be open ahead of election day in order to encourage the local population towards the ballot box. These methods will offer the local electorate a greater opportunity to participate in the elections and if deemed successful, could be rolled out in other areas in the future.
Local elections for young people
As part of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act of 2020, anyone over the age of 16 can now vote in local elections. This follows on from last year’s Senedd elections which were the first government election in which 16- and 17-year-olds could vote in Wales. We can expect to see some local council candidates offering new incentives directed at younger people in order to shore up extra support from this newly enfranchised group.
As always, there are key battleground areas for all political parties, hoping to make up for losses and consolidate further inroads since the last election. For Labour, Blaenau Gwent is a main target, with First Minister Mark Drakeford visiting to campaign in Tredegar earlier this week. The authority is currently run by independents, and Labour will be hoping to defeat some of these who were previous Labour members. With the number of councillors here being reduced from 42 to 33, results in Blaenau Gwent could be interesting to observe.
Last week, Plaid Cymru launched its campaign in Deganwy in the Conwy Borough Council local authority, currently held in part by the Conservatives. In 2017, Plaid Cymru were just short of being able to form an administration with the independents, and evidently are trying to make up for it this time round. Plaid shares power with independents in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Ynys Mon, whilst the Conservatives share power with independents in Powys, Wrexham, Denbighshire and Conwy. Both are likely to attempt to consolidate their hold in these areas.
Other points to watch
In Cardiff, Plaid Cymru are running a pact with the Green Party who have yet to significantly break through into Welsh local government. As for the Liberal Democrats, any progress on a poor set of results in recent elections in Wales will be welcomed, having lost 10 seats down to 63 overall in 2017.
The independents are a group that always do well in local government elections. In 2017, independents were the second largest group of successful candidates, with some forming local administrations. The prospect of independent areas changing hands should be offered close attention.
At the last local government elections, the turnout across the country was 41.8%. In 2022, this could be affected either way due to a multitude of factors, ranging from voter disillusionment to a willingness for getting voices heard on pressing local issues. One thing is certain in these fresh elections, with adjusted boundaries, wider voting periods and a greater number of eligible demographics, there is certainly a lot to watch out for on election night.