Sunday, 21 November 2010

Councillors face cull as districts plan full merger.....

A local councillor has sent us the following article from The MJ, the journal for local authority business magazine:-

Voluntary local government reorganisation is one step closer, as the body governing council boundaries has announced it is reconsidering how to best carry out reviews.

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) has launched two consultation documents which will, between them, make it easier for councils to change the number of members they have, or go for a complete merger.

Under the recent financial pressures faced by councils, all options for saving cash are up for grabs, with several councils considering their options to cut councillors or merge. Until now, many mergers have been focused on back-office functions or senior management teams, but increasingly, councils are considering a more radical approach.

LGBCE chair, Max Caller, told The MJ that he had been approached by two or three pairs of councils which were interested in possible mergers, including Mid Suffolk and Babergh Borough Councilss, with others showing interest. But, he claimed, more might come forward when they saw it as an option. He said: "I don't think we can estimate the demand until we have done the consultation."

He said the commission 'has the power' to force hostile mergers, but had no plans to use it. Unlike the local government reorganisation under the last government, any potential mergers were, for now, likely to come from councils themselves.

To join up, the commission would require councils to show value for money and would expect an advisory referendum to show support for an amalgamation.

Mr. Caller said: "From my conversations with councils across England, it's clear to me that there's an appetite among them to look at radical solutions to the challenge of delivering excellent services at a time of dwindling resources and rising public expectations. These papers will tell them if, and how, we can assist."

"Delivering electoral quality for voters will always be our priority. In achieving fairness for local elections, however, we can help councils reach their strategic aims too. The LGBCE is not just a regulator."

Last month, Telford and Wrenkin Council announced plans to review the number of councillors it had as part of its cost-cutting exercise. And earlier this week, Gloucestershire CC announced it had been given the go ahead to cut from 63 members to 53, after calls from the ruling Conservative group on the council.

Leader of the council, Mark Hawthorne, said: "I could not look our staff who are facing redundancy in the face if councillors weren't sharing the pain too."

The consultation will run until the end of the year, and Mr Caller hopes to have changes in place by the start of the new financial year in April 2011.

A consultation on policy and procedures for principle area boundary reviews, and Striking the right balance: A consultation on policy and procedures for electoral reviews, can be found at HERE

*It seems odd that councillors would vote for their chance of being elected becoming more difficult. And what's to stop a new combined council merging with a 3rd? Then a 4th? Altogether, it sounds more impersonal and cumbersome, needing more executives to run it smoothly, not less. I'm not sure this is what David Cameron means by his 'Big Society'; shouldn't that involve smaller units, working from bottom up? I.e., local people who know their local area well?
Better surely to get rid of the overseas jollies, sky-high expenses and daft quangos which local taxpayers were never meant to fund, before they cut the peoples' representatives.

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