Tuesday, August 08, 2017
Cutting councillor numbers
Last year, in Gateshead, the Lib Dem group successfully proposed a motion calling on Gateshead Council to investigate the possibility of switching from annual to once-every-four-years elections and to cut the number of councillors by a third. Gateshead is one of a relatively small number of councils in which all wards are three member. One councillor is up for election each year after serving a four year term. It means elections to Gateshead take place three out of every four years. We recommended that council numbers could be cut by a third by retaining the existing boundaries but switching each ward from three to two councillors.
Labour backed the motion to investigate the proposals and an advisory group was held earlier this year to consider the issue. There was an unusually large Labour turnout for it and Labour councillors queued up to say how intensively pressurised they were and getting rid of some of them would result in the end of the world as we know it.
The thinking behind our proposals was that over the past decade, the budget and functions of the council have been reduced and the number of councillors should be reduced to reflect this. The power to reduce councillor numbers rests with the Boundary Commission, not the Council, but the Council is well within its power to press for a reduction. The power to change elections to once every four years rests with the Council.
After the advisory group, the proposals were considered by the all-Labour cabinet. Not surprisingly, typical comments focused on how western civilisation would implode if the changes were made. The most absurd point came from Gary Haley who claimed that business people would be put off investing in Gateshead if there were fewer councillors! Labour then officially rejected the proposed changes.
It is interesting to note however that reducing the Council from 66 to 44 members would save £250,000 a year. The cost of one set of council elections is £140,000. Over a 4 year cycle, total savings would be £1,280,000. Think of what you could do with that!