Boundary review: council wants fewer councillors, larger wards

 

The number of Reigate & Banstead borough councillors could fall, with ward boundaries being redrawn, as part of a forthcoming review.

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England is to look at the borough’s electoral arrangements because it’s 20 years since the last review, and population changes mean wards now have varying councillor/resident ratios.

Although the number of people living in the borough has increased, the council is recommending to the commission that the total number of councillors be reduced from 51 to 45, having assessed how the council now works and current guidance.

There would be 15 wards instead of the present 19, but all would be represented by three councillors.

The commission will shortly hold a public consultation, before drawing up ward boundaries and then also consulting on those later in the year.

Any new arrangements are expected to be in place for an all-councillor election in May 2019.  After that, councillors would once more be elected in thirds, with elections in three out of four years, as at present.

Numbers, names, boundaries

The commission will be considering:

  • council size – the number of councillors needed for an effective structure
  • wards – boundaries, ward names and numbers of councillors for each

As well as looking at the differences in ward population sizes, the independent review will reflect changes in local government structure since the last assessment in 1997/1998.

Future population growth will also be looked at: in 1998 there were around 118,000 residents, in 2014 the figure was 143,000, and the Government predicts 169,000 by 2029.

“Equal, no matter where you live”

Chair of the council’s boundary review working group, Cllr Lynne Hack, commented:

“The review aims to ensure that each councillor represents a similar number of people so that everyone’s vote in council elections is equal, no matter where you live.

Currently some wards are represented by fewer councillors than others and the population has become disproportionate to the number of councillors representing them.

This will be a positive opportunity to shape the future of your council. When the time comes we want as any people as possible to have their say so that the commission understands the nature of our communities and local circumstances so they can be taken into account.”

The commission will hold a public consultation for 10 weeks from 30 January, and a further one over the summer on ward boundaries and names.

The council’s recommendation

As a first step, the council has had to tell the commission what size of council it needs, and a full council meeting on 14 December approved recommending a cut from 51 councillors to 45.

The council’s reasoning is that although population has gone up, there have been changes to the way the council works, including having a leader and executive model and the delegation of more functions to officers.  The council also completed a transfer of its housing stock back in 2002, significantly reducing workload.

Technological changes – allowing the public to access council services and information directly – and a reduction in committee meetings were also cited in a report from the council’s boundary review working group, presented to the meeting.

If the council’s proposals were adopted by the commission, the 45 councillors would be divided into 15 wards of three each – a more uniform arrangement than at present, where some smaller wards only have one or two councillors.  A third of councillors would continue to be up for election each year, with elections in three out of four years.

However, the changes would mean that all seats (including in any unaltered wards) would have to go up for election in the first year of the new arrangements, May 2019.

But not everyone agrees

At the council meeting Cllr Nick Harrison of the Residents Association said his group opposed a reduction in councillor numbers.

He argued that the cut, coupled with population growth, would mean that by 2029 each councillor would be serving 60% more residents than back in 2000.

Cllr Harrison listed responsibilities of councillors that had continued despite changes to the way the council operates, and said that although residents were able to better access services via IT, they had become more demanding:

“We often receive e-mails and calls day and night and our help is sought on what can be quite complicated matters, more than just a simple missed bin.”

He went on to say that the ratio of electors to councillors would only be matched, within Surrey, by Woking, which has a smaller geography based around a single town.  He concluded:

“We think that retaining 51 councillors would keep the current workload more manageable, and make it easier for the council to attract new and younger people to become councillors, often at the stage of life when they have demanding work and family commitments to fit in with the life of a councillor.

Fewer wards – 15 rather than the current 19 – will inevitably mean larger wards and will split up some of our communities.

Finally, and most importantly, we believe our residents and their community interests will be better served by keeping to a council of 51 members.”

Cllr Lynne Hack (Con) responded that a majority of the council’s cross party boundary review group had approved the proposal, but it had been noted that Cllr Harrison had opposed the reduction.  She added:

“The working group has considered all the points that Cllr Harrison has made here tonight, but we’ve also considered – and the full report is in front of you – that the number of councillors required to fulfil the leadership functions, the regulatory functions, the scrutiny functions and the ward-based functions will be adequately supplied by 45 councillors.”

As a result of a call from Cllr Harrison, a recorded vote was held – something of a rarity, where a note is taken of how each councillor has voted, rather than just a show of hands.

The vote was 37 in favour of the proposals, 10 against and 3 abstentions.  The “for” camp was made up 35 Conservatives and both the two Lib Dems; the “against” by one Conservative, all seven Residents and both the two Greens; and the abstentions were three Conservatives.

Points to watch?

  • An initial all-out election in May 2019 means most councillors will face the voters sooner than expected under their four-year terms – and in the case of any elected this May (2018), after only a year.  And others will presumably face the voters again as soon as May 2020, as the by-thirds system resumes.
  • Boundary reviews can get people’s attention when there’s a proposal that a ward’s name be changed.  Will any prove controversial?
  • In Reigate, at least one ward whose boundaries will have to substantially change is Reigate Hill, because it only currently elects two councillors.
  • Political parties can find their electoral prospects improved or worsened by a boundary review, but that will depend on how the lines get redrawn.  (The independent commission will simply be aiming to better match representation to population size.)

Links

Watch the webcast of the council discussion

Council minutes (scroll to item 11)

Local Government Boundary Commission for England – where details of the review will appear

 

 

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