Councillors vote to cull themselves

Thursday 27th September 2012 10:00 pm
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TORY-led South Hams Council has voted to effectively boot out up to a quarter of its own councillors.

The council now aims to tell the Boundary Commission that it can just as easily run the district on 30 councillors as it can with the present 40.

The district is facing a major boundary shake up because almost one third of the 40 electoral wards currently fail to measure up to the Boundary Commission rules when it comes to how many voters are represented by each councillor.

The councillors had been given a choice of keeping the number of councillors to 40 'or thereabouts' or drastically reducing the number to 30 'or thereabouts' to try to get the voting numbers right.

An 'opposition' group of Liberal Democrat, Labour, Green and independent councillors wanted to see the figure stay at 40 – warning that to slash the number of councillors would also cut democratic representation.

The council's Conservative leader John Tucker said that the council's 'structures working group' had been split down the middle when it had looked at the two options.

But when it went to the vote, councillors decided by 21 votes to eight that they wanted to see their numbers reduced to the 30 'or thereabout' option.

Conservative councillors rejected allegations that a Tory whip had been in force to push through the decision.

Liberal Democrat Julian Brazil warned them that the opposition group would be putting together its own independent recommendation to present to the Boundary Commission.

South Hams Council is one of 28 local authorities across the country facing a major boundary shake up.

Some 30 per cent of the district's wards have either too many or too few voters, says the Boundary Commission.

The Dartmouth and Kingswear ward has a massive 28 per cent too few voters while the Erme Valley ward has 21 per cent too many.

Dartington has 16 per cent too few; Bridgetown in Totnes is 13 per cent under; and Salcombe and Malborough is 19 per cent down. Meanwhile, South Brent is 25 per cent over and Cornwood and Sparkwell has 12 per cent too many voters.

The Boundary Commission has asked the council what it thinks is the best way to sort out the situation before it consults with the parish councils and communities and then makes the final decision.

Cllr Tucker said his 'personal view' was that 30 councillors or thereabout was 'a good number'.

Cllr Michael Hicks said one of the questions being asked was how many councillors were needed to run the council. 'We know that around 30 councillors will work which is why I want to see that number approved today,' he said.

And Cllr John Squire said he had 'long believed that we are over governed' and declared: 'Thirty councillors or thereabout is more than adequate for this council.'

But Lib-Dem Cathie Pannel warned that reducing the number of councillors would leave councillors with problems 'properly representing those people who have elected you'.

Lib-Dem Julian Brazil warned that cutting the number of councillors would leave the district council top heavy with executive members and make it difficult for back benchers to carry out their scrutiny role effectively.

And he also warned that changing boundaries could end up 'forcing' together rural parishes and town which 'don't fit together'.

And fellow Lib-Dem Keith Baldry said that keeping the number to 40 was 'about localism' and added: 'It's about the fewer people you have to represent the more local you can be'.

The council recommendation to the Boundary Commission would mean each counclllor representing an average of 2,500 residents.

After the council meeting, Cllr Tucker said: 'Our population has increased and in some wards there are more residents while in other wards there are less. We know our district well and we will be making our recommendations to the Boundary Commission which we hope they take them on board.'

Any changes are expected to be consulted on next year and would not be introduced until the next council elections in 2015.

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