Friday, 7 October 2016

Cornwall already has fewer democratically-elected public representatives than most places!

In November 2015, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) informed Cornwall Council that it had to undertake a boundary review (into the number of councillors and boundaries of local divisions) and, over the last few months, this work has been progressed by an Electoral Review Panel.

The first stage of the work is to define how many councillors are needed to properly represent local people on the unitary authority (from 2021 onwards), and the Panel has produced its initial report to the LGBCE. This states that the number of elected members should probably be somewhere in the range of 105 and 115, though there is still considerable work to be done to test this recommendation. This was reported to the most recent meeting of the Council.

This issue was covered in last week’s Cornish Guardian, but the journalist fell into the trap of bemoaning the high number of councillors on the unitary authority, though the reality is that Cornwall has less elected representatives on principal authorities (unitary, county and district councils) than most other areas.

Indeed, prior to the creation of the unitary authority, Cornwall had 331 councillors on the County Council and the six districts, while now there are only 123 members on the remaining principal authority.

Yet it was reported that “critics have pointed out that” Cornwall Council is “more than double the size of the Welsh Assembly and only three members short of those who serve in the Scottish Parliament.”

This is frankly an inappropriate comparison as the unitary authority is most certainly not a parliament or an assembly. Scotland does have its own Parliament, but it also has 1,222 councillors on 32 unitary authorities, while in Wales there are 1,254 representatives on 22 unitary authorities beneath the Welsh Assembly.

As part of its research, the Electoral Review Panel has also compared the level of local representation in Cornwall with the 44 ceremonial county areas across England (based on electorates from December 2015).

The statistics showed that Cornwall had the sixth lowest number of councillors in relation to electorate, with one councillor to serve every 3,215 voters.

By comparison, at the top of the table, West Yorkshire (with 372 councillors) had one elected member for every 4,162 people in the county, while Cumbria (with 368 councillors) had one elected member for every 1,025 people. In Devon, the 482 councillors represented an average of 1,792 voters.

All this evidence really does contradict those individuals who claim that Cornwall is over-represented in terms of democratically-elected public representatives. And yet, at the most recent meeting of the unitary authority, we had people arguing we should slash the number of councillors to 70 – which, if agreed, would leave Cornwall with the lowest level of political representation in the whole of the United Kingdom.

As a democrat and a Cornishman, I consider such arguments to make no sense at all.

[This will be my article in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian].

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