FEWER OF THEM MAY WORK FOR YOU (But whose?)
One of the things the Conservatives have flagged up in their election manifesto is their wish to reduce the number of councillors in Elmbridge from 60 to 48.
This was last looked at a few years ago. The Boundary Commission responded that as the ratio of councillors to voter numbers in Elmbridge was pretty much at the national average level, they did not see a need for change. During the past ten years the population of Elmbridge has increased substantially (and probably above the national average) which would if anything mean that Elmbridge needs an additional councillor somewhere, but the results of the 2011 census are yet to be published, and we do not have the figures for electoral rolls round the country.
The idea of trimming the council is superficially a crowd-puller, but any responsible administration would look into what the consequences of that are likely to be, before pressing for it.
Residents' councillors proposed that the council should do exactly that, both in committee and in council, before deciding to put into motion a process with the Boundary Commission. As so often, the Conservative party used its absolute majority in both committee and council to vote down that very reasonable proposal.
Residents believe that some parts of Elmbridge, for example Hinchley Wood, could lose their distinct identity at representational level. We have had direct experience of the consequences of proposed boundary changes recently, concerning the proposal to split Weston Green down the middle for county representational purposes, which would have eroded its identity as a community. Weston Green could potentially be another borough ward to suffer or be amalgamated with another area as the Conservatives' plan is railroaded through. As residents support truly local representation, we would oppose such consequences.
Elmbridge's rulers' excuse for not considering the consequences before the recommendation is put, is that 'the Boundary Commission will look at it.' With recent experience, however, we know that that means simply that the Boundary Commission will immediately ask Elmbridge to make its own proposals to the Commission, for the local authority knows the ground better than does the Commission. If the council's staff are going to have to do the work anyway, why not do the essence of it now, in order to see what the consequences will be, BEFORE a process is actuated which will bring those consequences about?
It is hard to credit the assertions of the Conservatives that they have not themselves done any analysis of the likely results, for that would border on incompetence in what we know is a very disciplined and well-organised party machine. Why then would they wish to force the issue before an analysis within the council has been carried out for all to think about? You may, or may not, find their explanations unconvincing.
To see how the council vote went on this matter, there's an article in the Elmbridge Guardian, here. Residents Councillors, with one exception, abstained because they felt unable to take a position without some indication of its probable consequences. LibDems felt likewise. To the Guardian, Residents' Group leader Councillor Stuart Selleck said:
“Whenever one political party presses hard for changes in voter representation and boundaries, there is always a strong suspicion that gerrymandering is at the bottom of it.Note that the reason advanced for the reduction is seemingly that council allowances could be trimmed - this from a party that raised them a few years ago. The amount to be saved? About £51,000 a year - until they put up the allowances of the remainder. The reserves of your money they are sitting on? £17 million. The knock-on effects - apart from loss of community identities? The small caucus of party politicians that runs Elmbridge would get even smaller. The mechanisms for vetting planning applications would be futher reduced, with all that that implies, just as the mechanisms for internal scrutiny of decisions have been reduced. But then, in a Cabinet system and with an absolute majority to force their decisions through, you can see how too many backbenchers might be seen as irrelevant, if not a downright nuisance. The Conservatives say that councillors do not have enough to do. Residents' councllors however, are always very busy in their wards as you can see from day to day in Thames Ditton and Weston Green - and not just at election times, either!
“That suspicion is not allayed by the unseemly haste with which the Conservative Party councillors have rushed the matter through at election time in order to make it an election issue.”
Tell us what you think in this forum thread.