Bid to cut number of council members defended

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The deputy leader of a North Yorkshire council has insisted democracy will not suffer as a bid to slash the number of members has taken a major step towards becoming a reality.

Hambleton District Council wants to cut the number of elected representatives by 16 from 44 in a move which would save it about £80,000 in councillors’ allowances and expenses.

The independent Local Government Boundary Commission for England has now announced it is “minded to accept a proposal” to reduce the total number of councillors representing the district to 28.

However, the council’s deputy leader, Coun Ron Kirk, insisted the proposal is not financially driven and that local democracy is “paramount”.

Coun Kirk added: “Local democracy is paramount and obviously good representation needs to go with that.

“The second point is that the nature of the role of a district councillor has changed over the last few years. At one time many issues that an elector wished to raise with the council went via the councillor. With modern technology the vast majority of contacts with the council are direct to the service provider.

“For example, assume your rubbish bin has not been collected. In the past the comment would come via the councillor; now the vast majority of such comments would go direct to the council via email or telephone. The role of a councillor has changed, within that role the workload has reduced.

“We are totally convinced that democracy will remain in tact. For example, a county councillor would still have twice the number of electors to represent, should we reduce to 28. In other words a county councillor who covers education, social services - which are very large services – represents twice the number of people that these proposals would provide.”

Hambleton is one of the first councils in the country to pursue the move, which is being considered by local authorities elsewhere in Yorkshire.

Earlier this year Ryedale District Council’s leader, Coun Keith Knaggs, said the current number of 30 members could be reduced to as low as 20 and a review will be launched this autumn to cut the number of councillors on Selby District Council.

The commission is now asking people in the Hambleton district for their help to draw up a new pattern of wards to accommodate 28 councillors. If the proposals go ahead, the new wards would come into effect at the 2015 local elections.

Coun Kirk said: “Obviously in times of cut backs in local authorities whereby reductions have taken place regarding staffing and in some cases services, councillors should not be excluded from such financial constraints.

“This change has not come about as a result of financial constraints but with the desire to operate on a business-like footing.”

The commission’s review aims to result in a system whereby each councillor represents roughly the same number of voters.

Commission chairman Max Caller said: “The starting point of an electoral review is for the commission to take a view on the number of councillors who should represent the authority in future. On the evidence presented, we are minded to recommend that Hambleton should have 28 councillors in future.

“We’re now asking local people and organisations to help us draw up new wards for the district. As we develop the recommendations, we’ll take into account local community identities as well as ensuring electoral equality for voters. Your views will make a difference.”

All the submissions will be published on the commission’s website and residents will have a further chance to have their say after the draft recommendations are published in November. People have until August 28 to submit their views.