Agenda item

Update on planning for the May 2021 Senedd elections

Minutes:

8.1      The Chair welcomed Siwan Davies and Sulafa Thomas to the meeting. Siwan referred the Committee to the updates provided in the Commission’s Corporate Risk Register and provided a further update on the legislative position, outlining the rapid passage of the Government Emergency Bill through its various stages and the implications of this for the Commission. The Bill, which was awaiting Royal Assent for it to become enacted as the Elections Wales (Coronavirus) Act 2021 would provide powers for the Llywydd to move the date of the Senedd Elections by up to six months should this be necessary to protect public health. It would also shorten the formal dissolution period to one week.

8.2      Siwan described the agreement that this formal one week dissolution period would be preceded by a three week pre-dissolution period. During this four week period, which would be known as the ‘election period’, the only Senedd business to be conducted would be to debate and approve proposed changes to the date of the election or for matters of public health relating to Coronavirus. She added that normal dissolution rules, including those around use of Senedd resource, would apply during this four week election period. Dissolution guidance for Members of the Senedd and for Commission staff was being updated and would be issued in the coming days.

8.3      Sulafa described the practical steps being taken to update and issue election period guidance, and the plans being finalised for the start of the Sixth Senedd. This included plans for virtual or physical oath taking in line with public health guidelines, providing access to IT equipment and other resources, and setting up offices for new and returning Members. Sulafa explained that some IT equipment for new Members was being purchased early to mitigate the potential risks around procurement delays relating to the end of the EU Transition period.

8.4      Sulafa advised that plans were also being drawn up for the various forms in which the official opening ceremony might be conducted depending on the lockdown restrictions. A detailed programme of induction was also being finalised which, in the early days, would focus on providing clarity on rules and Members’ statutory and most significant responsibilities. Discussions were also underway, including with the Llywydd, the Commission and the (Committee) Chair’s Forum, around the end of Fifth Senedd in terms of legacy reporting.

8.5      Sulafa added that the process for changing the date of the election and the thresholds for doing so were also being considered. Budget implications of any changes were also being monitored. In response to questions from the Committee, Siwan advised that it would be the First Minister proposing a change to the date of the election based on advice from Public Health Wales and the Chief Medical Officer.

8.6      The Chair thanked Siwan and Sulafa for their comprehensive updates and noted the rigorous and well-developed plans in place. He also noted that the focus for the Committee would be on regularity and propriety. Committee members also noted the exemplary approach by Commission officials and offered to provide any assistance going forward.

Actions

·        (8.2) Clerking team to ensure dissolution guidance is shared with ARAC members once finalised.