As part of a series of interviews with group leaders at Bridgend Council ahead of the 2022 local elections, we spoke to Alex Williams of the Independent Alliance. Here’s what he had to say.
‘You feel you can change the world’ – is how Bridgend councilor Alex Williams described the feeling of stepping into local politics for the first time.
Five years later, the Independent Alliance group leader at Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) ahead of the 2022 election period reflects on the most valuable lessons he learned as a representative for his ward ahead of the 2022 election. This year.
Despite being a party with no clear political affiliation, the Independent Alliance is the biggest opposition to the Labor administration in the BCBC.
Read more: ‘Neighborhoods where local elections in Bridgend could be won and lost’
Mr Williams, who has led the group since 2017, said: ‘The cogs of local politics turn slower than [what] you [expect them] until you become a county councillor.
“That’s probably the most valuable lesson I can pass on to anyone who aspires to be a consultant – try to maintain some sort of perspective on exactly what you can accomplish in your tenure.”
Local democracy and engagement
A self-described “political graduate”, Mr Williams obtained his masters in politics in Strasbourg before working in the European Parliament.
He then studied transatlantic politics in Seattle.
As one of many young council members, the group leader said there was still some way to go to encourage wider engagement in local politics.
“I think there is some skepticism among the public as to what exactly an adviser does,” Mr Williams said.
“[And] if they get what they pay for in their local services.
“They see council tax going up and they associate that with what we call the public domain and their communities, but they don’t. [always] to see [that] their housing tax contributes to schools and social services because they do not necessarily have access to these services.
“I think the local authority has a job to do to explain what they are doing for the local community.”
A new advance voting pilot is being launched this year in the county borough of Bridgend with the aim of increasing voter turnout. You can read more about it here.
The program allows registered voters in certain neighborhoods to vote at a time of their choice two days before the election, which will take place on May 5 this year.
Encourage young people in politics
Additionally, there will be a separate advance voting pilot project at Cynffig Comprehensive School aimed at encouraging young voters to vote.
For the first time in Wales, 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote in local elections.
Mr Williams added: “It will be even more important to try to involve young people in the process.
“Part of the problem, for me, is trying to encourage these young people to stand up.
“When you look across local authority, the vast majority of my colleagues are over 50 or even over 60.
“You have very few board members who are under 40, like me, Ross or Sorrel. We are the minority.
On what might prevent young people from getting involved, Mr Williams, who runs a political consultancy firm called Williams and Saunders Political Solutions, added: ‘There is a problem because people are pursuing careers at this particular age. and do the job right there is a commitment to be made.
“I’ve been struggling with this issue for some time – whether it’s okay to professionalise as a county councillor, or whether it should always be as a community volunteer with a small reward or allowance for expenses and time that you must commit to on a monthly basis.
“If you professionalize it, you gain more engagement through improved pay, you can encourage a different group of people to engage more – maybe more professional people with more experience in those particular areas.
“However, on the other hand, there are merits in saying that all you want to do is make sure you have a cross-section of society in a representative democracy.”
Mr Williams was one of the most vocal supporters of a council tax cut last month when the council confirmed its budget.
In the end, councilors voted to freeze council tax.
Asked about Bridgend-wide issues and what he would like to change in the county borough, Mr Williams said he hoped relations between council and members of the public could improve from significantly.
He said: ‘We are constantly told by our agents and budget officers that we are going to have to make further service cuts in the future and that there will be significant council tax increases in the future.
“What I’ve been saying recently is that there needs to be more of a focus on an organization that is the beast of BCBC to make sure we get what we pay for and that all the different directions – education, social services , communities and council – large budgets – justify their spending and ensure good value for the people of Bridgend County Borough.
“We need to do more to communicate the council’s vision and make people realize that they are really getting value for their council tax money, that they are contributing to council funds.
“The housing tax represents 30% of the municipal budget. I don’t think people really understand that. Also, you have to [understand] that the housing tax represents the second item of expenditure [some peoples’] Household.
“You have your mortgage or your rents, which most households do, and then you have council tax, which in my household is approaching £300. You need to make sure people actually understand what they’re getting for that money and every direction needs to look at themselves and justify the public spending.
“I don’t think it’s done enough at the moment to make the organization much more efficient. This is an internal issue that needs to be addressed at the very beginning of the board and throughout the board’s term so that we can direct all of these savings to frontline services. »
With a relatively even balance of Tory, Independent and Labor candidates in Bridgend, Mr Williams admitted this year’s election could be of particular interest.
He said: ‘This is a very interesting election to participate in because of the finely balanced situation we currently have within the local authority.
“You have to think of it as an election that could potentially [change] Bridgend County Borough Council administration, whereas in other local authority areas you may not have one.
“At the moment, due to Chris Davies’ recent victory in Caerau, you have a minority Labor administration with 24 councilors out of 54. Of course, this number will be reduced to 52 in the next term.
“There may be a total change in the administration.”
You can find the names of all the candidates running in Bridgend on the BCBC website. Want the latest Bridgend County news straight to your inbox? Register for free here.