Proposed Electoral Review of the Forest of Dean District Council
To consider report LD.410 relating to a Proposed Electoral Review of the Forest of Dean District Council.
Leader of the Council, Councillor Patrick Molyneux, presented report LD.410 and informed members that the council had been asked to consider submitting an application to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England to undertake a review of the size of the District Council, (in terms of the total number of councillors), and whether or not a move to single-member wards might represent more effective and convenient local government.
The leader said that he and the other group leaders had pondered on this proposal for some time and clarified that the decision at this meeting was only to consider whether to establish a cross party working group to prepare a business case for change that could be submitted to the Boundary Commission. Reflecting on the savings that the council had been required to make in recent years, the leader said that the only area where no change had been made during this time had been in the number of elected councillors. For this reason, the leader believed the number of elected members on the council was quite high and that the proposal to reduce the figure should be taken seriously. Expanding on why he thought the proposal was a good idea, the leader said that, despite the good reasoning behind the decision to create multi member wards, there was also evidence to suggest that this arrangement might not be as effective as single-member wards. To reinforce his comments, he said that the management of a three-member ward could be confusing to residents and not always a good use of resources. The Leader moved the recommendation that council agree to progress the project and establish a cross party working group. Councillor Brian Robinson seconded the proposal.
Councillor Di Martin said that the proposal was premature and reminded members that the first meeting of the Governance Options Group was due to take place the following week to review the current governance arrangements and whether the council wished to seek an alternative model. Councillor Martin said that, from the outset she had opposed the notion of an electoral review and strongly urged members to not look at the make-up of the council until after the Governance Options Group had completed its work.
A full and comprehensive debate ensued, with several members agreeing that the decision to undertake an electoral review precipitated the need to consider what model of governance might be required. Councillor Bruce Hogan said that it would be dangerous to commit to the leader’s recommendation and absolute madness to set free the hounds before the hares. Reflecting on a similar situation at Gloucestershire County Council, Councillor Hogan expressed concern about the unforeseen consequences that might arise should the Boundary Commission be called on to undertake a review of the make up of the council before the governance issue had been resolved. Councillor Bill Evans said that, as a rural community, he believed the option to become a unitary council was a more realistic option and suggested that the debate on this matter be revisited.
Cabinet Member for an Efficient Council, Councillor Brian Robinson, said that to await the recommendations from the Governance Options Group could delay the process by a further four years. Referring to the budget consultation process that had taken place in 2010, Councillor Robinson said that the area that had received the highest proportion of votes when asked to identify which service area the public wished to reduce the most had been the ‘democratic process’, with a total of 78 per cent of votes. He said that an important part of the democratic process was to seek the views of the electorate and that to delay the decision beyond the next election would be letting the local communities of the Forest of Dean down. Councillor Don Pugh recalled that the total number of responses to the budget consultation exercise had been 1,387 and therefore disproportionate in reflecting the views of the district as a whole. Councillor Robinson said that, whatever the number of responses, he believed the majority of residents within the district would want to reduce the burden of costs associated with the democratic process.
Councillor Marion Winship questioned the impact new housing developments and the subsequent increase in the number of people living in the district might have on the number of councillors required. The leader said that he hoped such considerations would be taken into account but that there were no guarantees that the Boundary Commission would accept the council’s proposals. With this in mind, Councillor Winship proposed that the leader accept an amendment to the original motion and proposed that, ‘the council agree to establish a cross party working group to look at the benefits or otherwise of having an electoral review of the district’. The leader accepted the proposed amendment, which then became the substantive motion.
Councillor Bruce Hogan suggested an amendment to the motion, to propose that ‘the cross party working group commence its work after the report of the Governance Options Group had been presented to Full Council’. The leader believed the two issues were separate issues and spoke against the amendment. He said that to delay the decision could compel the council to its current level of spending for a further seven years, which was totally unacceptable, as was the suggestion that councillors consider taking a reduction in their personal allowances.
Before voting on the proposals, the Group Manager for Legal and Democratic, Marie Rosenthal, clarified that the full council, when addressing the recommendations from the cross party group would need to demonstrate evidence of a consensus but that it was not a requirement for this to be a unanimous decision.
In strengthening their points of view, cabinet members highlighted the need to make savings and avoid further delay, whilst Councillor Hogan said that the matter would only be on hold for three months, to allow the Governance Options Group to complete its work and report to full council in July. A recorded vote was taken on the amendment and was unsuccessful.
First vote (amendment)
Councillors, Frank Baynham, Roy Birch, Max Coborn, Clive Elsmore, Bill Evans, Jackie Fraser, Julia Gooch, Val Hobman, Bruce Hogan, Di Martin, Graham Morgan, Bernie O'Neill, Bill Osborne, Don Pugh, Lynn Sterry, Roger Sterry, Helen Stewart, David Thomson and Ian Whitburn
Councillors, James Bevan, Jim Connell, Gethyn Davies, Judy Davis, Peter Ede, Brian Edwards, Diana Edwards, Frankie Evans, Terry Hale, Jane Horne (Vice chairman), Brian Jones, Gabriella Kirkpatrick, Len Lawton, Patrick Molyneux, Martin Quaile, Brian Robinson, Marrilyn Smart OBE, Arthur Thomas, Marion Winship and Roger Yeates
A vote was required on the substantive motion and members,
RESOLVED to establish a cross party working group to look at the benefits or otherwise of having an electoral review of the district
Second vote (substantive motion)
Councillors, James Bevan, Roy Birch, Jim Connell, Gethyn Davies, Judy Davis, Peter Ede, Brian Edwards, Diana Edwards, Frankie Evans, Terry Hale, Jane Horne (Vice chairman), Brian Jones, Gabriella Kirkpatrick, Len Lawton, Patrick Molyneux, Martin Quaile, Brian Robinson, Marrilyn Smart OBE, Marion Winship and Roger Yeates
Councillors, Frank Baynham, Max Coborn, Clive Elsmore, Bill Evans, Jackie Fraser, Julia Gooch, Val Hobman, Bruce Hogan, Di Martin, Graham Morgan, Bernie O'Neill, Bill Osborne, Don Pugh, Lynn Sterry, Roger Sterry, Helen Stewart, Arthur Thomas, David Thomson and Ian Whitburn