Sunday, 22 February 2009

How not to run a democracy!

It has been a busy week for news on the unitary council. The council tax increase for 2009-2010 will average 2.6% across Cornwall – the maximum possible due to the decision to equalise payments across the six districts – with the Penwith area about to experience a 4.9% increase. So much for the alleged savings.

A total of 400 job losses have also been announced and the date of the election has been set for 4th June.

Many people thought that it was likely that elections would be delayed until October but the minister has chosen to hold elections earlier on the draft proposals for council divisions – not final ones agreed after consultation.

For me, it is testing time. As an employee of the County Council, do I give up my job to stand for the Council or not? At the moment, it is impossible to take a decision as no work has been done on what allowances would be paid to councillors – making it very difficult for working people to make decisions on their future.

The whole thing is a bit of a shambles and does Cornwall and its democracy no favours.

The Liberal Democrat MPs claim that the calling of the election is a victory of democracy over delay. They need to remember that it is the Liberal Democrats with the assistance of the Labour Government that has got us in this mess.

Here are few more things that they should remember.


· MK opposed the proposal for a single unitary council for Cornwall, which was also opposed by the vast majority of local people.

· When the decision was taken, MK backed calls for an early election to give democratic legitimacy to those people setting up the new Council. This was opposed by Liberal Democrat county councillors who argued it was important to properly sort out the new ward boundaries for the Council ahead of elections. Central government decided to set up an appointed Lib Dem dominated Implementation Executive to oversee the transition period.

· The subsequent boundary review fell into disarray when a minority of local councillors led by Lib Dem leader David Whalley argued that there should only be ninety councillors instead of the 100-164 suggested in the bid that they themselves had submitted to government.

· Draft proposals were finally launched by the Boundary Committee in December, though these contained many errors and problematic suggestions which did not respect local community boundaries.

· By this time, it was clear that the actions of the local Lib Dems and the inefficiency of the Boundary Committee meant that it was unlikely that the new boundaries would in place for an election in the first half of 2009.

· Central government also decided to move all local elections due on May 2009 to June to clash with the European Parliamentary elections, showing their contempt for the importance of local elections which MK argued should be fought on local issues.

· In the consultation on the date for the first elections to the unitary authority, most principal councils in Cornwall reluctantly took the view that the elections should be delayed to October in order for the new council divisions to be in place. This was latterly opposed by the Lib Dem MPs.

· When it was thought likely that there would be a six months delay between the abolition of the existing councils on 31st March and the election in late October, it was announced that the county councillors along with the district councillors on the Implementation Executive would continue, as well as a number of district councillors who would be co-opted to simply exercise planning and licensing functions.

· Due to the need for the planning representatives to reflect the political make-up of the County Council, this meant that the majority of councillors to survive for this period – now only two months - would be Lib Dems.

· MK research shows that of the 113 Liberal Democrat councillors on one or more principal authorities 71 would continue in some form and 37% would cease to be councillors. By contrast, 74% of Conservative councillors would be abolished and 61% of Independent councillors would cease to be councillors. Eight of the nine MK councillors (89%) would also cease to be councillors. Is this democracy?

· The announcement on the 19th February stated that the election will take place on 4th June on the draft boundaries which have been out to consultation until very recently and therefore the view of local people will not be taken into account on the make-up of the divisions.

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