SIXTEEN- and 17-year-olds in Wales will be given the right to vote in council elections as part of a package of reforms to local government in Wales proposed by the Welsh Government.

The reforms will also enable councils to merge voluntarily should they wish, and allow for job sharing in top posts, including that of council leader.

The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill, is due to be introduced before the National Assembly for Wales later today by the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James.

It is intended to invigorate local democracy in Wales, making it easier for people to see, influence and get involved with the work of those who represent them, while widening the range of people who can vote and stand for office.

Proposals to change the law to enable 16- and 17-year-olds to vote at council elections are part of what will be the biggest change in the Welsh electoral system for 50 years. The voting age was lowered to 18 during the 1970s.

The Bill is also intended to support councils to work together across geographical and administrative boundaries, keeping accountability with local people.

“We believe in strong local government. We want it to thrive, we want the people of Wales to feel well-represented and supported by modern public services, and we want the relationship between local government and the Welsh Government to be mature and focused on our shared agenda - delivering better public services for everyone, helping people who need support, when and where they need it most," said Ms James.

“This Bill is introduced at a time when austerity continues, and relationships and technology are changing the way public services interact with each other, and with the communities they serve.

“So 20 years on from devolution, this is a significant Local Government Bill which reflects the journey of devolution and will deliver a major package of reforms, including local government electoral reform.

“It aims to provide local government with new ways to support and serve their communities in these challenging times, while reinvigorating local democracy here in Wales.”

The Bill also introduces powers to:

• Allow each council to decide for itself which voting system to use - First Past the Post (FPTP) or Single Transferable Vote (STV). STV is considered to be a system of ‘proportional representation’;

• Make it easier for people to be included on the electoral register, by giving electoral registration officers the power to automatically add people to the register, without the need for them to apply;

• Enable the piloting of reforms to council elections after 2022, such as holding elections on different days and having polling stations in different places;

• Move to fixed five-year terms between council elections;

• Give all foreign citizens lawfully living in Wales the opportunity to vote in and stand in local elections, irrespective of their nationality;

• Enabling job sharing in the council executive including the post of leader, and updating provisions to enable councillors to remotely attend council meetings and have periods of family absence;

• Allow the voluntary merger of principal councils to make sure that, where this route is taken, the process is completed in an orderly fashion and reaps the greatest benefit possible for service users.

The Bill has been five years in the making, with ministers working with local government and in response to five public consultation exercises.