Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Monday, 28 April 2008 15:53 UK

The big issues voters care about

By Phil Parry
BBC Wales political unit

Polling station
The fate of councils across Wales will be decided on 1 May

They may be unglamorous, but bins and post are two of the central issues in elections which could decide the fate of hundreds of councillors in Wales.

The stopping of services and the closure of schools are said to be raised regularly on the doorsteps.

Even when the politics may reside mainly in Westminster, supporting your councillor via the ballot box is seen as critical to influencing the outcome.

And hovering above all is an ever-present concern: council tax.

SCHOOLS: Falling rolls have made it vital for local authorities in Wales to reorganise school services, but the way it's been done and the perceived lack of consultation has prompted strong protests.

Figures released by the Welsh Assembly Government show that last year there were 86,811 unfilled places in primary and secondary schools across Wales - that is one in six school places.

But closing schools and merging others has proved a controversial option and many plans have been put out to consultation until after the election.

Post Office sign
Post Office reorganisation has meant the closure of several branches

POST OFFICES: There are 250 closures planned on top of the 324 which have shut since 1997 and few issues have filled politicians' postbags quite like this one.

Yet for these elections the options for potential councillors are limited because the Westminster government is a majority shareholder in the Post Office.

Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrats are all talking about promoting "local services" through the Post Office with both Plaid and the Tories promoting payment of council tax through it.

Meanwhile, Labour emphasises that local people should have access to a post office - while stressing that long term the business has to be financially viable.

COUNCIL TAX: Candidates will become well-used to handling complaints from voters about the money they have to pay to the council.

Over the past 10 years a typical band D council tax bill has doubled.

There are wide variations across Wales: Blaenau Gwent has an average band D council tax bill of 1,264, while Pembrokeshire's is 829.

Making any commitments that may cost money will be tough for candidates - especially given the extra pressure on councils which are obliged to come up with more cash for women workers and comply with equal pay legislation.

HOUSING: Despite falls in prices recently, within the past year the average house price is still 163,454 - up over 4% in a year.

So the pressure on council housing becomes even more intense, and the cost of keeping those homes up to standard is a major headache for councils.

Burglary
Voters will be asking if local councils can help prevent crimes

Transferring the housing stock out of local authority control is one route - but controversial. When put to the vote, many tenants - such as those in Swansea or Wrexham - have been against.

Plaid Cymru is committed to suspending the right to buy where housing stocks are very low. The Conservatives are equally firm in supporting the right to buy - but want to ensure more flexibility over planning laws to release more suitable land.

Labour promised in its assembly election manifesto last year to invest 450m to help build 6,500 more affordable homes. The Liberal Democrats want local councils to ensure more affordable housing is built into new developments.

ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR: Low-level crime will be an issue for voters, with parties eager to show their credentials on how they would clamp down.

Closing off some alleyways with gates is policy for some groups amid accusations, particularly in Cardiff, that not enough is being done to seal off alleyways where problems occur.

In Cardiff all parties have supported measures to safeguard the 101 telephone service for non-emergency cases after the Home Office pulled the plug on funding.

ENVIRONMENT: Collecting the bins may be one of the biggest issues.

Plans to move away from weekly collections are unpopular with many voters and there have been pledges to reinstate - or protect - the weekly collection of bins.

While all parties will profess their green credentials, it is fundamentals such as these which may swing voters.


WELSH COUNCIL ELECTIONS 2008

  Councillors Councils
Party +/- Total +/- Total
LAB -124 342 -6 2
CON 63 174 1 2
PC 31 205 -1 0
LD 21 162 0 0
OTH 9 381 0 0
NOC - - 6 18
22 of 22 councils declared.

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