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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 08/11/2005
CONSULTATION FROM THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION - PERIODIC
ELECTORAL REVIEWS



Summary & Purpose
This report suggests a Council response to a consultation from the Electoral Commission on the future periodic reviews. There are no immediate resource implications.

APPENDIX F

Waverley Borough Council

EXECUTIVE - 8TH NOVEMBER 2005


Title:
CONSULTATION FROM THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION - PERIODIC
ELECTORAL REVIEWS
[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose

This report suggests a Council response to a consultation from the Electoral Commission on the future periodic reviews. There are no immediate resource implications.

Environmental implications

There are no environmental implications.

Social/community implications:

The outcome of a review can have an effect on community representation and on the relevance of local elections. A successful review can strengthen local democracy and increase participation in elections.

E-Government implications:

The suggested response includes a proposal to use the website to help in the consultation process.

Resource and legal implications:

There is potential for a joint or coordinated electoral review with Surrey County Council.

Introduction

1. Waverley's electoral arrangements are reviewed periodically by the Boundary Committee for England, under the Electoral Commission. This was intended to happen approximately every ten years, but, in practice, has happened around every twenty years.

2. Electoral arrangements include:-

numbers of Councillors;
numbers of wards and their Councillors;
ward boundaries; and
frequency and patterns of elections.


3. The Electoral Commission is now carrying out a major review of the review process and has invited all Councils to submit views by 25th November. A copy of the full report has been placed in the Members' Room. Following this meeting of the Executive, the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee are also being invited to comment on the response.

Background

4. The last Electoral Review of Waverley finished in the autumn of 1998 and was not implemented until the Borough elections of May 2003. The major outcomes were:-

(a) no change in the number of Councillors at 57;

(b) a significant redrawing of ward boundaries, particularly in the Cranleigh area; and

(c) no change to the pattern of elections, continuing with all-out elections every four years.

5. It involved a major consultation exercise with key stakeholders and a very heavy workload for Councillors and officers in producing proposals and responding to consultation. Overall, the process took around 18 months, was concluded in late 1998, but missed the 1999 Borough elections and had to wait until 2003 to be implemented.

Process

6. The Commission staff led the review, but worked closely with Waverley staff in setting up the consultation and responding to very detailed representations by stakeholders, including political parties, town and parish councils, community organisations and individual residents.

7. Once agreed, the review fed into subsequent County and Parliamentary constituency reviews as Borough wards are, where possible, used as "building blocks" for larger units, such as Surrey County electoral divisions or the two Parliamentary constituencies in Waverley.

Objectives of the Periodic Electoral Reviews (PERs)

8. The Commission has given the primary objective of current PERs as "to ensure that within a Local Authority, the number of electors represented by each councillor is as nearly as possible the same". This principle of electoral equality is seen as a basic democratic principle and a safeguard against gerrymandering or manipulation of boundaries to seek political advantage.

9. The Commission, having completed the national programme of reviews, which has taken eight years, wants to take stock of the reviews, learn from them and identify improvements for future reviews which may or may not need changes to legislation.

10. Current legislation requires the Commission to take account of the need to:-

reflect the identities and interests of local communities;

secure effective and convenient Local Government; and

secure equality of representation.

11. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has also held a Select Committee enquiry into the statutory criteria used to determine ward boundaries. It concluded that too much weight is given to the "criterion of equality of representation" and "not enough to the interests and identities of local communities". The Committee also asked for simultaneous County and Shire district reviews, and for the Commission to be given a clearer steer on an appropriate Council size.

The Government's Ten Year Vision for Local Government

12. The ODPM is reviewing the future role of Councils and Councillors and has proposals for:-

standardising elections nationally on a basis of whole Councils every four years, as already happens with Waverley and Surrey County Council;

suggesting that all ward Councillors should have a large role in representing their areas, and as a result that the current individual workload might have to be reduced, possibly by increasing the number of Members; and

arranging that all wards should be represented by a single Councillor.

Specific Questions Raised by the Commission

13. The detailed questions on which the Commission is seeking response are set out below:-

(i) Balancing the Statutory Criteria

Q1 Are the three criteria: 1. having regard to identities and interests of communities, 2. effective and convenient local government, and 3. having a duty to achieve equality of representation, the most appropriate factors for determining electoral boundaries?

• Should all of the criteria be given equal weight?

• Is it appropriate to start, as the Commission does, with electoral equality or should there be a different approach?

• If a greater weight were given to community identity, would a higher level of electoral inequality be acceptable?

The last Waverley review seemed to give too much emphasis to electoral equality. As a result, some ward boundaries in the towns did not follow any recognisable community areas and, as the review started in the west and worked east, some less than satisfactory wards had to be created in the east of the Borough to be able to balance electorates.

Recommended response to the Commission

Community identity should be the first criterion and if, subsequently, a large level of electoral equality results, there should be flexibility to accept this.


(ii) Community Identity

Q2 What evidence can the Commission use to understand community identity?

• Can community identity be recognised through the location of public facilities to identify the cores of communities?

• Should the Commission adopt this approach in its consideration of community identity?

• If it did, are there other public facilities that could be used and easily provided as evidence?

Waverley's review showed that it could be difficult to agree on indicators of community identity and that, particularly in rural areas, settlements could look in several directions or belong to different communities.

Suggested response:

The Commission should be flexible and sensitive in responding to communities' perceptions of their identities and links. This could be particularly relevant in rural areas where public facilities were thinly spread.

(iii) Electoral Equality/Equality of Representation

Q3 How far is it reasonable for the Commission to depart from electoral equality in reaching its decisions?

• Should this figure be higher or lower than the measure used of no more than 10% greater or lesser than the average number of electors per councillor for the whole area?

• Should the figure vary between different areas?

Suggested response:

As explained in the response to Q1, the Commission should accept a higher figure, up to 15% for example, and be more flexible in rural areas.

(iv) Effective and Convenient Local Government

Q4 What evidence can the Commission use to indicate effective and convenient local government?

• How far do you agree with how we interpret effective and convenient local government for the purpose of defining electoral areas?

• Are there benefits in seeking a high degree of matching between boundaries (coterminosity), especially in two-tier areas?

• Should the Commission set such a target for coterminosity?

• Should the Commission set such a target for parish boundaries in district wards?

Suggested response:

Having matching boundaries should not be the determining factor, but in active three-tier areas it saves confusion if there is a high level of coterminosity. The Select Committee proposal for simultaneous County and Borough reviews would help achieve this (see paragraph 11 above).

(v) Timing and Scheduling Reviews

Q5 Are the criteria the Commission uses to decide when to undertake Further Electoral Reviews (FERs) – 30% of wards with a variance in excess of 10%, or one ward with a variance of over 30% – appropriate?

• Should the Commission invite requests from councils for a FER?

• What justification should the Commission require for reviews undertaken on grounds other than electoral equality?

Response:

Further electoral reviews should take place only if there have been major population changes. Councils should also be able to ask.

(vi) Timing and Frequency of Reviews

Q6 Should the Commission make plans for another programme of PERs?

• What approach should the Commission take to the timing of another PER and the scheduling of reviews within it?

• What factors should be taken into account when scheduling reviews?

Response:

The next round of reviews should wait until uncertainties on the roles of the Councillors and once the structure in two tier areas has been resolved.

(vii) Sequencing of Reviews

Q7 Should the Commission aim to review two-tier areas – districts and counties – simultaneously or overlap the county review with that of the districts?

Response:

See response to Q5.


(viii) Issues and Information Considered During a Review

Q8 Should the Commission maintain its current approach to determine council size or give more specific guidance, such as a formula or banding scheme, linked to councils’ electorate size and functions?

• What evidence should be expected from respondents to argue the case for council size?

• Would comparative information, such as indicators of the broad council size norms linked to electorate size, provide councils as well as the Commission with some guidance in considering proposals?

Response:

Whilst Members have felt, in the early stages of operating Executive arrangements, that a smaller Council might now be more appropriate, if the Government has proposals for changes to roles, these should be resolved before any changes are suggested to Council size. The difficulties of representing a wide range of communities also need to be taken into account.

(ix) Electorate Forecasts

Q9 Should the Commission continue to expect all local authorities to provide five-year electorate forecasts?

• Can the Commission support local authorities to provide better electorate forecasts with some guidance? If so, what form should any guidance take?

Response:

Any guidance on how to produce accurate forecasts would be useful.

(xi) Single and Multi Member Wards

Q10 Should the Commission be prescriptive about the number of councillors per ward or division throughout an area, such as having one councillor per ward or division?

• Should the number of councillors for wards in metropolitan districts be as flexible as in other areas and should the Commission seek to change the legislation?

• Should the Commission continue to set a maximum of three councillors for all electoral areas?

Response:

The Commission should be flexible, especially in mixed urban and rural areas such as Waverley, but the Council accepts three should be the maximum number of Councillors for a ward or division.

(xi) Stages of a Review

Q11 Should the Commission make any changes to the length and nature of the stages of a PER?

• Would there be value in considering council size ahead of Stage One?

Table 7 : The stages of an electoral review

StagePeriodDescription
Preliminary StageTypically 12
weeks
The Committee advises the date for the review, and briefs local authority officers and council members. The local authority provides preliminary information (maps, statistics, forecasts etc.).
Stage OneTypically 12–15
weeks
Commencement of review and submission of proposals to the Committee for future electoral arrangements.
Stage TwoTypically 12–16
weeks
The Committee considers proposals, determines draft recommendations and prepares the draft recommendations report.
Stage ThreeTypically 8 weeksThe Committee publishes the draft recommendations report and invites representations.
Stage FourTypically 12–16
weeks
The Committee considers representations, reaches conclusions on final recommendations and submits a final report to The Electoral Commission.
Post-recommendation
Stage
Typically 8–10
weeks
The Commission considers the final recommendations and further representations received, and reaches a decision.
Response:

It would help to settle Council size as the first stage of any review before ward Members and boundaries are worked on in detail. The last Waverley review took longer than expected and as a result was some four years old before it was implemented.

(xii) Communication and Consultation

Q12 What can the Commission do to make people more aware of, and get involved in, electoral reviews and the proposals being made?

• Would more proactive local publicity stimulate more interest at appropriate stages and more informed responses?

Response:

If reviews were simultaneous, the public might be more willing to become involved in a broader debate that covered all aspects of local democracy and representation. The internet offers a potentially valuable new channel of communication.

(xiii) Naming Wards

Q13 Should the name of a ward be open to change without the need for a review by The Boundary Committee for England?

Response:

Councils should be able to settle their own ward names.

Other Issues

(a) Parish Reviews

Waverley is unusual in having carried out a review of the need for a new Churt Parish. More and updated guidance on such reviews would be helpful.

(b) Correction to the Waverley Review Order

The Commission has noticed that in an Amendment Order made by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in 2000, by mistake, the number of Members in the Haslemere East and Grayswood ward was transposed with the Hindhead ward. There should be three Members in Haslemere East and two in Hindhead. The Executive is asked to support the ODPM making a further Amendment Order to correct this.

Resource Implications

13. There were very heavy staffing implications involved in the last review. They were contained within the existing establishment by a concerted effort in Committee and Member Services, from both Elections and Committee Teams. Further reviews should be more flexible and take place only every 15-20 years to avoid another such peak of workload.

Recommendation

The Executive is recommended:-

1. to review and endorse, with any amendments, the suggested responses above to the Electoral Commission; and

2. to notify the ODPM that it supports making a further Amendment Order to correct the transposition error in ward membership.



Background Papers (CEx)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.



CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Robin Pellow Telephone: 01483 523222

E-mail: rpellow@waverley.gov.uk





comms/executive/2005-06/150
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