A bill to reform local government elections, democracy, performance and governance has been passed in the Senedd, but the opposition have branded it a 'missed opportunity'.

The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill aims to provide increased opportunities for public participation and transparency in local government.

The Bill will reduce the voting age in local government elections to 16 and 17 year-olds and extend the franchise to foreign citizens legally resident in Wales.

Greater diversity amongst elected members in principal councils will also be supported by providing for job-sharing by office holders, more flexible remote working and updating family absence provisions.

The minister for local government, Julie James said: “This Bill will enable a local democracy which reflects our diversity as a nation, provide local government with new ways to support and serve their communities and reinvigorate local democracy in Wales.”

Increasing accessibility has been a prominent feature of the Bill, the Welsh Government said, not only making it easier for people to be included on the electoral register but also for people to stand for election.

Councils will now be required to consult and publish a public participation strategy with the aim of making it easier for people to understand how local government functions; how it makes decisions; how local people can follow proceedings and how they can input their views and have them taken into account.

To help facilitate greater participation, the bill seeks to promote more effective use of petitions within local government, introducing petitions schemes already in place with other public bodies including the Senedd.

The Welsh Government also wants to enable more people to watch councils meetings at any time. The Bill will require principal councils to live broadcast meetings of their full council that are open to the public electronically and to make the broadcast available electronically for a reasonable period after the meeting.

It will also enable more meetings to be broadcast in this way in the future.

People attending community council meetings will now have greater opportunity to make representations during meetings about any business.

For community and town councils the Bill will also allow for remote attendance at meetings allowing those with caring responsibilities and in employment to stand for election to this important level of local government.

Ms James added: “The Bill ensures that local authorities can take a lead in making the arrangements that ensure the regions of Wales can take responsibility for their shared interest in transport planning, land use planning and economic development.

"This is the next step in devolution in which Welsh Government supports the regions of Wales in exercising control over what matters to them.”

Welsh Conservatives voted against the plans, with shadow local government minister, Mark Isherwood MS, calling them a 'missed opportunity'.

Mr Isherwood criticised the Ms James, saying he believed the Bill's proposals were contradicted by expert evidence, including from the Electoral Reform Society and academics.

“Effective leadership is about being respectful to others, about unlocking their innate strengths and about being able to delegate," he said.

"However, throughout her responses during previous stages to this Bill, the minister has stated her personal belief in proposals within this Bill which are directly contradicted by the evidence provided by the expert bodies working in the relevant fields – and then led her party to defeat all our associated amendments."

Mr Isherwood added: “We voted against this Bill, and all responsible Members should therefore have also opposed it.”