Boundary Reviews R Us

Rugby has been covered by quite a few Boundary Reviews lately:

In 2004 there were changes to the County Council boundaries, which came into force in the 2005 elections. Another one is on the cards at the moment, and it is about due after 10 years.

In 2010 we had the first elections after the Parliamentary boundaries in Warwickshire were changed. Rugby & Kenilworth lost the Kenilworth bit (and MP Jeremy Wright) to a new constituency of Kenilworth & Southam, but the new Rugby seat gained the village of Bulkington – much to the chagrin of the Bulkingtonians.

After 2010 there was the national review provoked by the coalition’s wish to reduce the number of MPs, which would have seen a ‘Rugby’ that stretched all the way down to the M40 near Banbury. That review was killed off by the Lib Dems when they did not get their way on Lords Reform.t

In 2012 we had a set of all-out elections after changes to the Borough Council boundaries. This reduced the number of councillors, and dealt with the changes in population that had already happened and were likely with planned development.

So you’d think that we’d not have another one for a while. And that if anything, the least likely one to need a re-do was the one we’d just had. But of course you are not the genius Craig Humphrey, Rugby’s answer to Vladimir Putin (thankfully less often topless).

You see, because of some spat with the Warwickshire Tory heirarchy over whether there should be a county-wide Unitary Authority, and because autocrats love an opportunity to reduce the prospect for dissent, it makes perfect sense to change all our council boundaries. And to reduce the number of councillors from 42 to “30-35″.

And because in order to start one this year, a council needs to contact the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) by early April, a report was knocked up in a hurry and rushed through an ‘emergency’ Full Council meeting last night.

And what a report it is. Shoddy does not come close.

It claims that since the 2012 review, “a number of factors have emerged that mean we need to request a review of electoral arrangements and council size.” And they are, in full, deconstructed below.

The Government’s programme of reducing local government funding means that we
must review all aspects of our services, including electoral arrangements and
council size. We believe that we have substantial local reasons to make changes
that will provide synergy with this national priority and provide a sustainable basis
for adapting to future population growth:

The government was making cuts to local government funding well before 2012 – pretty much since the 2010 election is was clear. Interestingly, Rugby has been fairly lucky in that the building of hundreds of new houses provides it with a “New Homes Bonus” income that keeps council tax down. But this is not new. Oh, and anyone who uses the word ‘synergy’ should at least understand what it means. Ignore the colon at the end, it’s erroneous.

Rugby is currently undergoing considerable change as the fastest-growing borough
in the West Midlands and the latest expectations of further growth are different to
those envisaged in 2011/12 at the time of the last review. Several housing and
employment development schemes are underway, with more to follow within the
next 10 years. Our ability to provide effective and sustainable electoral
arrangements must therefore reflect the revised housing growth pattern within the
Borough.

The main new development in the Borough is the housing planned for the Mast Site between Hillmorton and the DIRFT. This was already allowed for in the boundary review of 2012, which is why Hillmorton and Clifton are both currently over-represented and over the next 5-ten years that will balance out. When they are done, it would make sense to have another review then.

During the past 3 years, Rugby Borough Council through a close partnership
between the Leader and Cabinet, Executive Directors and Heads of Service. We
now have conclusive evidence that this innovative arrangement has been of great
benefit. In addition, in September 2013 an LGA Peer Group Review report
confirmed the efficacy of our executive arrangements, approving them as a model
of best practice. We now wish to build on this model across applicable areas of the
Authority, enabling greater involvement by Councillors working closely with Council
Officers.

It’s been of great benefit to the Leader, who acts as if he is also the Chief Executive of the Council, and has taken it upon himself to push other councillors out of the usual pattern of representing RBC on outside bodies. Essentially, this is about the desire to change the council body from being a set of representatives of the public, into a group who are so closely working with senior officers that they are co-opted. Reducing their representative role

The authority has applied “systems thinking” techniques towards the delivery of
services during the past 5 years, resulting in streamlined practices and structures
that deliver better services at reduced costs. We now wish to deploy considerations
towards electoral arrangements, the size of our council and the way councillors and
officers work together.

I get enough of this corporate BS working for or with large financial companies in my time in IT. This is meaningless except for the key parts – ‘streamlined’. What do councillors do? They set policy, they represent the public, they challenge each other and they hold the council officers to account. Streamlining that means less of it.

Warwickshire County Council’s recent budget consultation demonstrated public
opinion that there are too many councillors for the work that needs doing, and that
the reduction in costs associated with electing and supporting fewer councillors
should contribute towards the spending reductions needed in the public sector. It is
worth noting that this was specifically aimed at the county council, which needs to
identify £92million of cuts and is struggling to meet this target. Nevertheless,
ignoring the financial considerations and taking into account the local context
where neighbouring district authorities have 36 (Daventry District Council),
37 (Harborough District Council), 35 (North Warwickshire Borough Council) and 34
councillors (Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council), there is clearly a view
among the general public that there should be fewer councillors.

This conflates several things – the WCC review was asking for people to identify £92m in cuts, and politicians being unpopular it was an easy target (but would have saved tuppence-ha’penny compared to the real cuts WCC is making). Elections cost money, but that is the price of democracy. It would be cheapest not to hold any elections and just live in a dictatorship, but as a nation we rejected (and fought wars against) that kind of thing. And looking at neighbouring councils to just compare the number of councillors is not enough. Population and make-up would be factors too…

Daventry (mainly rural area, one main town) – pop 78,100 – people per councillor 2169
Harborough (mainly rural area, one main town) – pop 85,700 – people per councillor 2316North Warks (mainly rural area, one main town) – pop 62,000 – people per councillor 1771
Nuneaton and Bedworth (mainly urban) – pop 125,400 – people per councillor 3688

Rugby (mainly rural area, one main town) – pop 100,500 – people per councillor 2393 – already more than the similar neighbouring councils cited.

If we went to 35 councillors, that would change to 2871 people per councillor. If we went to 30 councillors, it would be 3350, about double that of North Warks.

Interestingly, the nearby councils of Warwick (46 councillors) and Stratford-upon-Avon (53 councillors) were not used for comparison, despite both being immediate neighbours of Rugby. Warwick has 2993 people per councillor, and Stratford District has 2279

Basically, Rugby has a lower ‘density’ of councillors than most of these comparators, and a higher one only than two – both of which are more compact and more urban.

Also, public hostility to politicians is not new, and neither is the make-up of any of these other districts and boroughs, so it was known in 2012.

Rugby Borough Council are also keen to incorporate Central Government’s desire
to reduce the cost of Politics. We believe that by reducing the number of
Councillors to between 30 and 34 there will be a minimal annual saving of at least
£80,000. This amount added to the savings that will be created from changing from
election by thirds to all out elections will generate substantial savings.

Ignore the fact that the numbers change (sometimes it’s 30-35 councillors, others it’s 30-34). What is the basis for the ‘belief’ that there will be savings of at least £80k?

A councillor’s allowance is £5,214. Even if you removed 12 councillors (down to 30), that would only save £62,528. If you took the lower saving option of removing 7 (to 35) it’s down to £36498. So where does the other £45k come from?

Not to mention that councillors’ allowances are based on recommendations from an Independent Panel. Who look at, among other things, the number of people they represent. If you increase that from c.2400 to c.2800, they are likely to suggest a higher allowance, diluting any savings.

Nowhere in the report is the £80k figure broken down. It is asserted, but never substantiated by anything more than ‘belief’.

The changes to our electoral arrangements and council size are based upon :-
o All-out elections from 2016
o A reduction in the number of Councillors to between 30 and 35
o A baseline of 2700 electors per ward

All-out elections are not really the issue – the boundary commission has no real say in that and the Council could move to them if they wanted to. They had the chance to in 2012 and, largely through Tory opposition, did not. So what changed?

The reduction in the of number of councillors is vague, but the ‘baseline of 2700 electors’ is oddly specific. It also is leading toward single-member wards, which is fine for rural areas with lots of small parishes, but in urban areas it means lots of tiny wards with odd boundaries (not that Rugby is a stranger to that thanks to recent reviews).

We wish to reinforce our compliance with provisions within the Local Government
Act 2000 regarding effective and transparent decision-making.

Why just this Act and not the several others since (2002, 2003, 2007, 2010)? And why not the spirit of the legislation on Boundary Reviews that they should not take place within five years of the last one?

Last night the Tories forced through the report to approach the LGBCE, despite the faulty reasoning given. Because they are Humphrey’s little followers now.

 

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6 Responses to “Boundary Reviews R Us”

  1. Bearandraggedstaff Says:

    An interesting and very comprehensive assessment of the report and motives behind it.

    Some of the sentences you quote in the report just don’t make sense! It is very disappointing to see professional civil servants deliver a report of this standard.

    I hope that the UKIP influence in the local elections dilutes the Humphrey power base. Somehow I don’t think that will be enough to remove him from his position this time though.

  2. Danivon Says:

    I think the council officers (who are not ‘civil servants’ but are professionals) had a job to get from the original version’s awfulness to the one that was delivered. Apparently it was written by a politician (not hard to guess which one), and they reluctantly agreed to some edits.

    Last year UKIP stood in the wrong places, for them. They will likely pick up votes where they stand and that could lead to Tory losses in various places, but it’s not clear yet where they will stand and whether they have the manpower to campaign or will just hope the Euro elections will pull in support.

  3. bearandraggedstaff Says:

    I can’t imagine the boundary commission will take kindly to being handed a report like this. I have little problem with the number of councillors being looked at, but I think the best way is to have an automatic trigger for this to happen when average electors per councillor in one ward varies dramatically from the rest. I thought this happened already though?

    I rather suspect the council’s political make up will stay as it is in May. I wonder if Cllr Mark Williams will do the chicken run to Bilton ward this time? Admirals isn’t all that safe and he was pictured with two Bilton ward councillors in this week’s Advertiser.

  4. Danivon Says:

    Mark Williams is standing in Admirals and Cawston again. I will do a post on the candidacies later.

    On topic, there is not an ‘automatic’ trigger for boundary reviews, but there are guidelines on how often they need to be checked for as part of the normal review process, and if at that point there are clear disparities then it will mean that changes will have to happen. The last review took into account likely house building over the next few years (and so means that at the moment there are disparities because Eden Park is not complete yet and the Mast Site has no houses at all yet.

    I would say in 5-10 years if things look wrong, then it’s clear we would need a new review. But not right now, and not based on a half-arsed application which is really about trying to compete for Eric Pickles’ attention with the County Council, who want to go Unitary.

  5. Bearandraggedstaff Says:

    Will you be publishing a local election review? It was a shame you pulled the preview – were opponents making hay out of it?

  6. Danivon Says:

    I will do, once I’ve had found my spreadsheet for last year and had time to run the comparisons.

    I can restore my predictions so everyone can see how wrong they were – it was made before the UKIP surge which I thought had peaked. I did get one change correct, though – Deepah Roberts gaining Dunsmore as an Independent, joining Howard Roberts as two ex-Tories who oppose development in the area and if the past is any guide, will be the subject of more nastiness from some of the more partisan Tory councillors.


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