Cornwall’s Ward Boundaries to Change Before 2017 Unitary Elections

Cornwall’s Ward boundaries to change before 2017 Unitary Elections, although many Councillors express concern that the review is starting too late.

At Council last week, the Leader John Pollard told us that the Boundary Commission had told local Group Leaders that there has to be a boundary review before the next Cornwall Council elections as there is too much variation in the numbers of electors in each ward. The first stage of the process is that, we as Councillors have to come up with a number of Councillors needed for Cornwall. A tough ask as we are about to receive new powers but I’m sure most of my readers are saying fewer than 123, the number we have now!

Strangely the Commission has indicated that, as long as we choose between 28 and 107, we will not be challenged! Again, many reading this might want to suggest to me that I propose 28 but I would caution you against that. Many with romantic memories of District Councils will know that each of the 6 Districts had more than 28 Councillors and at that time there was also Cornwall County Council, which again had more than 28.

In coming up with a number, I would encourage people to think more about the local community leader and casework role of Cornwall Councillors rather than just attending meetings in Truro. At the moment I represent the communities of St Just and Pendeen and all the surrounding hamlets and communities. Unlike many of my fellow rural councillors, I only have one Town Council to work with. Some of my colleagues have to work with many small Parishes and each might have very different interests and pressures.

I anticipate we will say that our numbers should reduce to 107 or less (I fancy 101 sounds a nice number but perhaps I’m thinking my childhood favourite story of dalmatians). I do not know at the moment where my ward fits in terms of being bigger or smaller than average so do not know what pressure that might put on the boundary of my ward. If a small change is necessary it might mean my representing the people of Morvah and I probably do not have a problem with that. A bigger change might mean the boundary taking in hamlets towards Penzance, like Newbridge and Sancreed. However, if we drop significantly below 100 then I think it is likely the change would mean my taking the Lands End Peninsula of St Buyran, St Levan and Sennen and, if I’m honest, I struggle to see how I could adequately speak for and be able to respond to people from across that sized area.

At the moment I do a drop-in surgery each month, alternating between St Just and Pendeen. I would either have to do surgeries more than once per month or each community would have to accept a local surgery would be infrequent. At the moment I frequently receive phone calls and emails from people about their worries or complaints about Council Services. I pride myself on taking these very seriously and giving them great priority. I might struggle responding so quickly if I have to represent say, twice the number of people I do now, which might be the case if we came down to 60 – 80 Councillors.

Back to the process. Once the Council has plucked a figure from the air, the Boundary Commission will come up with proposed ward boundaries.

PROPOSED TIMETABLE:

19th April 2016 – Agreement of council size.
24th April 2016 – Consultation on “warding patterns.”
16th August 2016 – Meeting about draft recommendations.
6th September 2016 – Consultation on draft recommendations.
10th January 2017 – Final recommendations published.
Mid-late January 2017 – Order laid.

So, the boundaries will be announced in January 2017, just 4 months before the elections! That should play havoc with our democracy as it will be difficult to have open and fair processes to select candidates or allow Independent candidates the time to work out what communities they might best be able to connect with.

A Councillor did mention to me that the case might be made for running the 2017 elections on the old boundaries IF we agreed to a 2nd election in 2018. Personally, I think that would be plain daft!! If it is decided that the new boundaries not being known until January 2017 is too late for fair elections then I would prefer to see the elections delayed. I think that is legally possible (happened to me as a Town Councillor) and would seem preferable to 2 elections in 2 years.

No doubt there will be more debate on this process over future months!