The Shape and Health of our Local Democracy
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Canterbury City Council is proposing to cut the number of
local councillors in the district from 50 to 38. The Local Government
Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) has just initiated a public
consultation on whether to approve this proposal. As residents, we need
to consider the implications of such a drastic cut as they could be significant
for the shape and health of our local democracy.
The first question is:
what impact will a 25% decrease in
Council size have on the way in which decisions are made?
The Council’s submission to the Boundary Commission claims
that the current ‘Strong Leader and Executive system’ is well embedded in our
local democracy and that the number of councillors should be reduced
accordingly. However, many residents would disagree with both this
assertion and this conclusion. Far from being embedded in our local
democracy, the Executive System is becoming the source of increasing political
The Executive system was introduced in 2002 as a result of a
change in national legislation. It was supposed to speed up
decision-making and improve accountability, but its unintended consequences
have included the creation of a small political elite; a lack of in-depth
debate before decisions are made; and the effective exclusion of many
councillors from the decision-making process.
Under the Localism Act 2011, we are no longer obliged to
keep the Executive system, but a sharp reduction in in the number of local
councillors could make it more difficult for us to introduce an alternative
model as these generally require a greater number of councillors. We,
therefore, need to ask the Boundary Commission to assess the requirements
of other decision-making models, such as the Cabinet Committee system
operated by Kent County Council, as this may be something which we would want
to introduce in the future.
The second question is:
what impact will a 25% decrease in
Council size have on the ability of local councillors to represent the
residents in their wards?
At present, each councillor represents on average 3,023
residents. This is considerably higher than many other district councils.
If the number of councillors was reduced from the current 50 to 38, the
average ward size would be 4,200. If a further 780 new houses are built
each year, in line with the objectives of the draft Local Plan, the ratio of
residents to councillors will be considerably higher.
Reducing the number of councillors to 38 is likely to reduce
the ability of each councillor get to know their communities, listen to their
concerns and represent their needs and interests. Admittedly, some
councillors currently do this much better than others, but it is the hallmark
of any vibrant, healthy democracy. A sharp reduction in the number of
councillors is likely to decrease the capacity of existing councillors to
fulfil this vital representational role.
The Electoral Review process provides us with the
opportunity to have an active public debate on the shape and health of our
local democracy. We are unlikely to get a similar opportunity for at
least another decade. Let’s not waste it!
For more information, see: consultation.lgbce.org.uk
The deadline for the receipt of comments is: 6 August.
Comments should be sent to:
Post: The Review Officer (Canterbury), LGBCE, Layden
House, 76-78 Turnmill Street, London, EC1M 5LG
Sian Pettman, Canterbury