More councillors for Somerset please

There is a new Secretary of State sitting in the big chair at the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government. But is he listening? Michael Gove has replaced Robert Jenrick. Is that a good thing? Somerset awaits.

The One Somerset business case asked for 100 councillors. That business case was accepted by Robert Jenrick. Council leaders across Somerset have made a passable effort to bury their differences and get on with it. Unfortunately the Civil Servant looking at the transformation wants to make some changes. The suggestion was made that only 85 councillors be elected for the first sitting of the unitary council. This is something around which pretty much all of Somerset’s councils have united against.

In a letter to Mr Gove they point out that:

Given the parameters and timescale set out for this current boundary review, it would appear that no satisfactory warding option can be developed to meet that vision. In particular, we have major concerns about:

1. Electoral inequality and over-large wards.

  • a. To meet the given parameters, numerous multi-member wards are unavoidable. This leads to massive representative inequality.
  • b. Some wards are of a scale similar to quarter of a parliamentary constituency to meet the parameters.

2. Risk to delivery of the approved business case.

  • a. Local Community Networks (LCNs) are the core of the approved business case, boundaries that don’t meet the parameters are a major risk to delivery of the LCN programme and its local values.
  • b. Single accountability and simplifying public and partner contact with councillors and the council will be lost through large, multi-member wards.
  • c. Natural communities split across new wards risk effective cluster working to address common issues and the essence of the business case

3. Lack of transparency and engagement.

  • a. A lack of consultation with Town and Parish Councils on new wards with regards their effect on creating suitable LCN boundaries.
  • b. Top-down imposing of wards rather than collaboration and feedback to identify natural communities.

In summary they don’t think it is a good idea.

We agree. 100 councillors was, in the view of The Leveller®, a little too small to start with. We have always felt 110 councillors would make more sense. That way new unitary councillors could be elected with 2 for each of the existing 55 council districts. It makes sense. it is not complicated. Two things that Whitehall staffers seem to loath!

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