For Members to consider and agree the formal Council consultation submission in relation to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) Electoral Review of Fenland District Council. This report forms the Council's response to the initial part of the electoral review process regarding the proposed future Council Size which is the numbers of Councillors required to run the Council in future.
Members considered the Fenland Electoral Review – Council Size report presented by Councillor Boden.
Membersmade comments,asked questionsand receivedresponses asfollows:
1. Councillor Hay said she fully supports the recommendations. Our workload has increased with the additional CPCA committees, but we want to give our best for residents and there needs to be enough members to spread the load. It is better to be proactive rather than reactive so reviewing the boundaries now will ensure that councillors represent closer to the average number of electors overall come the 2023 elections and that the number of electors supported by members is equitable. Furthermore, if we want to attract good quality candidates to stand for council the workload must not be such that it puts people off and prevents them from standing.
2. Councillor Booth said that he broadly supports the recommendation but feels there still needs to be a root and branch review of local government in our area. We have too many tiers of local authority and that does not appear to be progressing. However, this will help to keep the situation equitable as stated by Councillor Hay, and it is important we have the right number of councillors to ensure we have a diverse representation. (Councillor Booth and Councillor Maul left the meeting at 5.34pm).
3. Councillor Tierney agreed with Councillor Booth that there are too many tiers of government in Cambridgeshire. However, for this review it comes down to whether you think councillors are good value for money or not, and he believes they are. He has always voted against rises in councillor allowances but that is not because he does not value the work they do; they put a large amount of their time into their work in helping residents and if paid it would probably be less than minimum wage. A small increase in the number of councillors to spread the load and be more effective in helping residents can only be a good thing. Yes, it is a small extra cost to have additional councillors, but it would be great value for money and the people that do contact their councillors are often very welcoming of the help they get.
4. Councillor Sutton said from the comments he made at the last Council meeting it would be no surprise that he does not support this and does not think we should put more on our council-tax payers at this time. County councillors represent a greater number of residents as does Peterborough City Council, which is a unitary authority fulfilling both district and county roles, so he fails to see why we cannot reduce the number of members we have. He feels the Leader was swayed from his original opinion stated at the working group, of reducing the number of members to 30 which Councillor Sutton would support fully. Therefore, he would like to add a bullet point to the recommendations and propose that if the LGPCE do agree to extra councillors, there will not be a cost to the taxpayer, but to members as a reduced allowance to pay for the extra resource.
5. Councillor Boden said as a point of order we have an independent panel that deals with members’ remuneration and we may be infringing the work of that panel by the wording of that amendment. (Councillor J Clark left the meeting at 5.40pm)
6. Councillor Miscandlon agreed. He said by adding that amendment we would be impinging on an independent body that advises this council in terms of remuneration. If the amendment is passed and accepted, it would have to go back to the time the IRP rationalised their decision about our allowances and that representation could be made at that time but not as part of the amendment. Councillor Sutton said although he finds it bizarre, he accepts the advice given. Councillor Miscandlon confirmed that member allowances are set or recommended by the Independent Review Panel and members cannot influence this; we can only give our opinion when interviewed, but the decision is theirs not ours.
7. Councillor Mrs Mayor said the amount of work carried out by the member working group was considerable. Although not part of the group, she had an opportunity to look at all the figures for 39-48 members which she enjoyed delving into and asked the Leader a lot of questions. 42 is the recommendation and that is the obvious number for her having examined the data thoroughly. She welcomes the report and fully supports it. We need to wait for the LGPCE to make the decision, but it cannot get any better than 42.
8. Councillor Hoy said it is interesting that Councillor Sutton voted for an increase in allowances at the last Council meeting, but now wants a decrease. She does not disagree with his logic about not wanting to put additional financial burden on the taxpayer but for her the most important question is do you consider three more councillors a burden? If we are saying approximately £5k a year basic allowance per additional councillor, over a four-year term this represents only 0.02% of our budget. Yes, it is public money but if they are going to provide quality and be good, proactive councillors and get things done, it will be worth it. The number can sometimes be irrelevant, but you must start somewhere. We set that number at 42 and she believes that is the right number.
9. Councill Miscandlon thanked Councillor Hoy and said he wanted to explain a few aspects. This council does not have the power to say how many members we have; it is up to the Boundary Commission; we only make a recommendation. If they say no, it’s dead in the water. Also, Members’ allowance is set by the independent review panel and brought to the council for councillors then to decide if it is appropriate or not and vote either on an increase or decrease. He accepts Councillor Sutton’s concerns for the future, but we are not the decision makers on that, these are independent bodies that come to us, we are governed by what they tell us.
10.Councillor Mrs Laws said we are looking to the future; we can only look at the planning applications that have been decided on recently or are in the process. We are not taking into account what is going to be built or what will come forward in future, we do not know how many properties we will have to represent. We are being driven to supply more homes, so she feels that we do need these extra representatives. No member of this council sees reward as monetary reward, they could not pay us for the hours we put in and that is not why we do it; we do it to represent our electorate. Some of us have more demanding wards then others but she totally welcomes an increase and sees it as a necessary increase to put forward to the Boundary Commission. We do not know how many of the electorate we will be representing in the future.
11.Councillor Yeulett said he is not in support of this and agrees with all that Councillor Sutton as he does not think we should put an extra burden on taxpayers.
12.Councillor Benney stated the number has been worked out by statistics and based on factual information in front of us. The size was set at 39 years ago, this recommended number of 42 will take us to 2027 and is a natural balancing out of numbers. Ultimately, we do not make the decision; we recommend it, and it may be rejected by the Boundary Commission. Every number is contentious if you want it to be, but this will not be decided by us. We need a base line to work from and he supports the number of 42.
13.Councillor Count said he fully supports the recommendation of 42 and welcomes Councillor Benney’s comments. His contention is that people have not identified that every Fenland resident is entitled to fair representation and that is the whole point of the review. Some members are burdened by twice as many issues as others, so we need to strive to have a fair representation for our councillors. Also, much has been said about other tiers of government, but the role of a district councillor is not the same as that of a county or parish councillor because the services offered are so different. District councillors are focussed on the household, whereas county councillors scrutinise large documents that are policy driven. He dislikes the term tiers of government; there is no such thing; tiers relate to a management structure that exists in business. As a county councillor there is no way he can tell a district councillor what to do, likewise a district councillor cannot tell a parish councillor what to do. His final point is one of allowances and the extra burden on the taxpayer. One of the reasons the proposal for an increase is being driven forward is the sheer quantity of housing that has been and continues to be delivered in Fenland. As those households arrive, they pay rates and some of that money comes to Fenland with a certain percentage then going towards members allowances. If you increase the number of households but do not do anything about members allowances, there is no impact as the cost is being lowered to the resident as the sharing of the burden is between the greater quantity of households.
14.Councillor Mrs French said she is also in full support of this paper. She would like to thank the Leader and officers for the hours they put into this report. It is a welcome document, and she would like the Chief Executive to thank the staff personally.
15.Councillor Miscandlon concurred with Councillor Mrs French and invited Councillor Boden to sum up.
16.Councillor Boden said it is entirely appropriate to second the comments made by Councillor Mrs French about the staff; they have put in a lot of work. In summary, the basic reasons for the recommended increase to 42 are laid out in the report and given in his presentation and he does not want to move too far away from those reasons. We have come up with a figure which is exactly the average of our neighbouring authorities in statistical terms which gives validity to the number we have come up with. In respect of Councillor Sutton’s earlier comment although he was predisposed towards a reduction in the number of councillors, he has listened to all the evidence, without which he would not have recommended the small increase. Furthermore, he has no intention of any extra burden being placed on taxpayers in the next budget or subsequent ones whilst he is Leader and portfolio holder for finance.
17.Councillor Boden asked the Chairman if a recorded vote could be taken as it would be helpful to show the LGPCE the level of support for this recommendation and the feeling of the Council.
Proposed by Councillor Boden, seconded by Councillor Mrs French and AGREED:
• The Member Working Group recommendation that the future Council size should be 42 elected representatives.
• To delegate to the cross-party Member Working Group in conjunction with officers to add in the rationale for the selected Council Size figure and any discarded options within the proposed consultation submission Council Size range, prior to formally submitting the Council consultation submission to the LGBCE for consideration by 5 October.
• For Members to note the principles outlined above in relation to stage 2 of the LGBCE process in relation to warding arrangements.
In favour of the Proposal: Councillors Benney, Bligh, Boden, S Clark, Connor, Count, Mrs Davis, Mrs J French, Miss K French, Hay, Hoy, Humphrey, Mrs Laws, Lynn, Marks, Mason, Mrs Mayor, Miscandlon, Mockett, Murphy, Patrick, Purser, Seaton, Skoulding, Tierney, Wallwork, and Wilkes
Against the Proposal: Councillors Divine, Sutton and Yeulett
(Councillors Booth, Maul and J Clark left the meeting prior to the recorded vote taking place)