16th January 2017
By Peter Tremayne
Cornwall Council should lose nearly 30% of its members and needs only 85 members to represent the whole county, according to a motion tabled by Conservatives and due to be debated next week.
The motion, which will be moved by councillor John Keeling and seconded by councillor Fiona Ferguson, is intended to guide the council as it struggles to come up with a number acceptable to the Local Government Boundary Commission.
The motion, which will be debated on Tuesday 24th January, says: “The Council accepts that the number of Cornwall Councillors needs to be reduced. A final recommendation on Councillor numbers will be made by the Council in March. However, in order to give more direction to the Council’s final work on this, the Council resolves to submit as intermediate submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England to the effect that, based particularly on the reports of the Governance Review External Group, it recommends that the number of Councillors in 2021 should be 85.”
Cornwall Council’s initial pitch – that it should retain between 105 and 115 members – met with a dusty response from the Local Government Boundary Commission, which told the council to try again.
Officials then suggested that councillors now consider “alternative scenarios based on 85 and 105 members.”
The Conservatives’ move is likely to alarm the council’s Independent group, whose members sometimes lack the grass roots organisational machinery to compete with well-funded political parties.
The Independents have nearly always played a role in brokering political power at County Hall, as their support has often been needed to deliver office for either Conservatives (as in 2009) or the Liberal Democrats (as in 2013.) The council leader, John Pollard, is an Independent – despite his group finishing in third place in 2013.
Each councillor costs taxpayers at least £12,000, even if the member attends only one meeting per month and makes no other contribution to public life. Supporters of a smaller council claim it would help policy-making be more focussed, but supporters of a larger council regard local issues in their own communities as more important.
The council’s Liberal Democrats have yet to declare publicly the number of councillors they think are necessary, but group leader Adam Paynter has previously said that his personal view was that “around 80 is probably about right.”
Cornwall’s 213 town and parish councils, which on average have 10 members each, are increasingly taking over responsibility for local services such as car parking, public toilets and libraries.
The next round of Cornwall Council elections is in May and will be fought on existing boundaries, still with 123 members. Cornwall Council is one of the largest local authorities in the UK, created as a result of abolishing the former county council and district councils. The Welsh Assembly has only 60 members and the Scottish Parliament 126.
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