Sunday, 25 February 2018

Local Government Boundary Review and stuff

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian once again addressed issues of democracy. It was as follows:

A key priority of my political life has been a range of campaigns to strengthen democracy in Cornwall. Obviously, this has included the promotion of the case for a Cornish Assembly and greater control over all aspects of life in Cornwall.

Looking back over the last couple of decades, it has certainly been difficult to get the UK Government – of whatever political persuasion – to support such much-needed reforms.

Sadly, what changes we have seen have actually damaged democracy in Cornwall. Instead of achieving more powers through our own legislature, as in Scotland and Wales, Westminster politicians have centralised local government and further undermined it through under-funding and other changes.

It is just over ten years since the Labour Minister John Healey MP ignored the views of the majority of the people of Cornwall and made the official government announcement that a unitary authority would be imposed on us.

At the time, I was among those who opposed the change and raised significant concerns about the democratic deficit that would befall Cornwall with the cull of over 200 principal authority councillors.

We have since seen a considerable drive from the UK Government to set up numerous unelected bodies of limited democratic legitimacy, which have done much to sideline the democratically-elected representatives of local communities.

In 2015, we had the so-called “devolution deal,” which was frankly extremely feeble and, I would argue, not really about devolution at all. And it transpired that the Government had an expectation that there should be a “boundary review” and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) subsequently ruled that the number of elected representatives in Cornwall should be reduced to 87 in 2021 – a further cut of 36 local advocates.

It is well documented that I opposed this cut – not least because Cornwall already has fewer elected representatives (per head of population) than most parts of the UK – but I have found myself in the position of having to help manage this backward step as the vice-chairman of the Council’s Electoral Review Panel.

This work has certainly dominated much of the last few months as we have tried to come up with possible boundaries for the 87 divisions via an LGBCE consultation, which has just closed. It has been a time-consuming process, trying to propose divisions with roughly the same number of voters while respecting community identities – which has proved extremely difficult in a number of localities.

Watch out for the LGBCE formal proposals which will be published for consultation in early May.

I just hope that the next time I am involved with facilitating democratic change, it is a positive change!

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