Sunday, 10 January 2016

My next Cornish Guardian article ... a council boundary review?

In this coming week’s Cornish Guardian, I have written about the upcoming boundary review for Cornwall Council. I covered this topic on my blog prior to Christmas, but the article is posted here in the spirit of completeness.

This will be as follows:

On 23rd November 2015, three representatives of the Local Government Boundary Commission came to Cornwall and informed councillors that an immediate boundary review had to undertaken for the 2017 council elections.

Such a review would consider the number of councillors as well as the boundaries of the individual electoral divisions.

Most councillors were shocked by the announcement as the so-called “devolution deal,” recently agreed between Cornwall Council and central government, stated that the next such review would commence in 2017 for the 2021 elections.

Many of us also believe their proposed 12-month timetable for the process is totally impractical, especially given the nature and extent of the consultation processes that they themselves have specified.

Indeed, a similar review for Devon County Council was commenced in early 2014. It is ongoing and, by the time it is competed, it will have taken around two years.

I believe it is right that Cornwall Council has made a strong representation to the Boundary Commission, seeking that the next boundary review is not rushed and takes place on the originally agreed timetable. And I hope the Commission does respond positively to this submission

I have to say that I have also been saddened at the initial wave of press coverage on this issue, and the oft-repeated assumption that Cornwall has too many elected councillors.

One recent Cornish Guardian report stated: “The size of Cornwall Council, which has 123 councillors, has been a cause for concern,” adding that the “Welsh Assembly has only 60 members and the Scottish Parliament is not much bigger than Cornwall Council, with 129.”

This is a ridiculous comparison as the unitary authority is a local council, not a national legislature, and the reality is that Cornwall (population 535,000) has fewer councillors than most other areas.

Prior to the creation of the unitary authority, Cornwall had 331 councillors on principal local authorities.

Scotland (population 5.3 million) does indeed have 129 parliamentarians, but it also has 1,222 councillors on 32 principal authorities. And Wales (population 3.1 million) does have 60 assembly members, but at local government level it has 1,254 councillors on its 22 unitary authorities.

The contrast with the local government arrangements in the neighbouring English counties of Devon and Somerset is also very stark, with Cornwall having less elected members per head of population. Devon (population 1.4 million) has 492 councillors on county, district and unitary councils, while Somerset (population 915,000) has 425 councillors.