Thursday, 29 September 2016

Councillor Numbers

Today members of the Council meet to have a first stab at what the number of Cornwall  Councillors should be in 2021.
As an 'urban, indeed Truro,  member' I recognise the difficulties members face managing large divisions. Division size ranges from 0.7 sq kilometres in Penzance to 137 sq kilometres in Poundstock. Some rural members are looking after, perhaps, 7 parish councils.
Many members also have a very long journey into Truro and therefore spend many hours travelling.  As each division must have the same number of electors so that everybody's vote is worth the same,  I think members with large geographical divisions will need to be compensated for that.
Many people may not appreciate that members do not receive their travel costs for visits within their division - only for certain official meetings, which are mainly in Truro. 
If a councillor has to bear their own travel costs for travelling around even bigger divisions then we can assume that only well off people will be able to afford to be councillors.
With that caveat, my personal view is that the number of councillors needs to be radically reduced:
1. A lot of the meetings at Cornwall Council are laid on to involve all the councillors, rather than them being useful in themselves. That is the tail wagging the dog.
2. The external group who reviewed the Governance of the Council said that the current number of members is 'unworkable'.
3. The Council has persuaded the Boundary Commission to put off until 2021 the correction of the electoral imbalances on the basis that the Council has a fundamental review of its numbers. Tweaking them to 105 or 115 (as is proposed) is not going to cut it.
4. The administration has persuaded the Government to devolve powers to Cornwall without a mayor on the basis it would have a fundamental review to ensure visible and accountable leadership . Tweaking the numbers of members will not be acceptable.
5.  The public want the number reduced.
The Council say they have no evidence  to support a smaller number. True, but that is because they are not looking and listening. They need to start.
I suggested 100 to the Panel to show all interested parties we were moving in the right direction.   We could then work up a lower number with all the bells and whistles.
That was rejected.  So let's get serious. I think a credible case may be made for, say 70.
It could be something like this:
9 Cabinet members including the Leader
3 Planning Committees of 15 each (no Strategic planning committee)
1 Licensing / miscellaneous licensing committee of 15
4 Scrutiny Committees to cover the 4 directorates (each directorate to have 2 Cabinet members)
Audit Committee of 9 which would also have oversight of the Council's pension scheme
Constitution Committee (to incorporate the Electoral Review Panel)
Plus one or two other committees such as Cornwall Harbours Board and the Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority
This would half the number of positions that needed filled.
As the Council is cutting services, has been told it is too big by a group of external experts and has made no effort to work more efficiently,  it is going to have to reduce the numbers.
The fact that it is making such a meal of its governance review, and is even proposing to continue this review for years, means it has not a leg to stand on.