Is Democracy at risk in Cornwall?
Is Democracy at risk in Cornwall? Probably not a burning conversation at our pubs or even most social gatherings but I think it is worth a few minutes of your life to ponder by reading this blog!
For those wanting to get straight to facts and ways to have their say use the link to the Cornwall Council website below. Otherwise work through this blog post and clicks links to as much or little information as you want!
I will try to not go into ‘rant’ mode and will not give too much detail but will instead provide a brief story of democracy in Cornwall and several links to more information for those more keen to look deeper and possibly even contribute to a consultation on where the electoral boundaries for Cornwall Council should be.
So, pre 2009, we had 6 District Councils and Cornwall County Council with a total of 331 councillors. In 2009, based on many debates Cornwall became a Unitary Authority so one Council and the total number of Councillors were reduced to 123. In 2016, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England announced that Cornwall needed a boundary review because there was too much variation in the number of voters in each electoral area. Whilst they said they did not come with reducing the Councillor numbers in mind, it became clear that any thoughts that numbers could remain roughly the same or go up was not going to be seriously considered.
So, despite much evidence against a significant reduction, 99 was the favoured number, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England came up with 87 Councillors from elections in 2021. This seems to be closely aligned with the view of many Conservative Councillors that, by then, many more tasks will be devolved to Town and Parish Councillors and that Cornwall Councillors should be ‘strategic’, sitting on committee’s in Truro and not spending time dealing with local worries.
So, as a final recap, St Just-in-Penwith where I am a Councillor had 3 District Councillors and probably 2/3rd of a Cornwall County Councillor back before 2009. You now have one whole Cornwall Councillor but from 2021 it looks like you will have half to 2/3rds of a Cornwall Councillor. In all this time, Towns and Parishes have not had a major change but the Boundary Commission could look at those, particularly if any area suggested they needed to change their boundary or have wards where they have none at the moment.
The boundary commission have come up with some suggested boundaries that fit their 87 councillors number.
Here are some quick links to more detailed maps for individual Community Network Areas:
The legend for the maps is:
It is possible for Political parties, Cornwall Council and members of the public to give their view on where and how boundaries should be drawn. There are important criteria given to us though, by the commission and to be listened to, the criteria have to be observed. I am told they are unlikely now to move from the figure of 87 unless, in agreeing to final boundaries it makes sense to change it by 1 or 2.
So, the criteria includes the average electorate in each division is set at 5,163, based on the 2023 electorate forecasts. The Commission allows a tolerance of 10% from this average which means the electorate range is 4,647 to 5,679. In exceptional circumstances, where there is a sound justification the Commission will allow this range to be exceeded. However, we need to remember that the further away from the average we are the greater the risk of electorate inequality occurring sooner and triggering another electoral review. If we do not observe the Commission’s permitted range of electors they are likely to give the proposals less weight.
From here on is much more detail and many links!
· the forecast electorate for 2023 by Community Network, parish and polling district
· LGBCE guidance ‘How to propose a pattern of wards’
· LGBCE webpage on the Cornwall electoral review
The Commissions Consultation Material asks Residents these Questions:
- Do you have suggestions about where your division boundaries should be?
- Which areas do you identify as your local community?
- Where do people in your area go to access local facilities such as shops and leisure activities?
Their guidance sets out these more helpful prompts:
· Transport links – Are there good communication links within the proposed ward or division? Is there any form of public transport? If you are proposing that two areas (e.g. villages, estates or parishes) should be included in the same ward or division together, how easily can you travel between them?
· Community groups – Is there a residents group or any other local organisation that represents the area? What area does that group cover? What kind of activities do they undertake and are there any joint-working relationships between organisations that could indicate shared community interests between different geographical areas?
· Facilities – Where do local people in your area go for shopping, medical services, leisure facilities etc? The location of public facilities can represent the centre or focal point of a community. We would like to hear evidence from local people about how they interact with those facilities so that we can understand the shape of local communities and the movement and behaviours of their residents.
· Identifiable boundaries – Natural features such as rivers, valleys and woodland can often provide strong and recognisable boundaries. Similarly, constructions such as major roads and railway lines can also form well known barriers between communities.
· Parishes – In areas where parishes exist, the parish boundaries often represent the extent of a community. In fact, the Commission often uses parishes as the building blocks of wards and electoral divisions.
· Shared interests – Are there particular issues that affect your community which aren’t necessarily relevant to neighbouring areas that might help us determine where a ward or division boundary should be drawn? For example, many local authorities contain areas which have urban, suburban and rural characteristics. Each of those areas may have different needs and interests though they could be located next to each other. One area might be more affected by urban issues such as the local economy while an adjacent area might be more concerned with local transport matters. We would like to hear evidence about what those issues are and how they mean ward boundaries should combine or separate the areas in question.
So, if you have not fallen asleep by now, you must be a keen bean and I hope all this info will enable you to get involved and I hope the Boundary Commission will take notice! Cornwall Liberal Democrats will do their best to make well evidenced contributions and luckily we have a few people who have expertise in this field!