WALTER CRONXITE reports on initial findings from an independent local boundary review which suggest that Croydon’s councillors are overworkedCroydon Conservatives’ politically inspired proposals to the Boundary Commissioners to get one over the Labour-run council by suggesting a reduction in the number of councillors from 70 to 60 has been firmly rejected.
The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has decided that, with Croydon’s population booming, even with 70 councillors, a typical ward with three councillors will have 12,084 electors by 2022. That’s half the size of some parliamentary constituencies.
Croydon Tories’ proposals just did not add up for the Commissioners.
“The Commission decided that the evidence for retaining 70 councillors provided a more persuasive analysis of the way the council conducts its business and its plans for the next few years,” a spokesman for the Commission told Inside Croydon.
“The Commission was persuaded that the role of councillors, particularly their workload in the community, is likely to increase at ward level over the coming years.”
Greater London elected 1,851 councillors in 2014. Only 42 of those, serving the residents of 16 wards, have to deal with more than Croydon’s new average of 12,084 electors (in three-member wards).
Croydon Council told the Commissioners that they expect 17,818 extra electors to join the electoral roll by 2022.
The Commission also seems to have been taken in by Tony Newman, Labour’s leader of the council, who told them that Croydon is moving towards a more devolved structure of power. This appears to have been accepted, even though it is palpably clear to anyone who has seen just a single webcast of a Town Hall meeting that real power in the borough is firmly clasped by Newman’s controlling clique of his three close mates.
The Commissioners are now seeking proposals from Croydon residents to help them draw up new ward boundaries in time for the next local elections, in 2018.With the boundary review running around two months behind schedule, it gives the local political parties at least eight weeks less to select their candidates ahead of the 2018 elections.
The local boundary review is taking place entirely separately from the work being down simultaneously by the parliamentary boundary commissioners, a process which could end up proving quite messy.
As an official of one of Croydon’s political parties said tonight, “Having two boundary commissions, one for local and one for parliamentary boundaries, who apparently do not talk to each other, is not a sensible process. This is particularly the case as the Parliamentary Commissioners are proposing to cast two Croydon wards into constituencies that are principally in other boroughs.
“So we could have ward boundaries that don’t match up with constituencies and constituency boundaries that don’t match up with boroughs.”
The stated aim of both reviews is to deliver electoral equality for voters. At local level, the review also aims to ensure that the new council wards reflect, as far as possible, the interests and identities of communities across Croydon.
Professor Colin Mellors, the Commission’s chair, said: “We are asking local people and organisations to help us draw up new wards for Croydon. As we develop the recommendations, we will take into account local community identities as well as ensuring electoral equality for voters.
“If you have a view about which communities or neighbourhoods should be part of the same council ward, then we want to hear from you. And if you think a road, river or railway makes for a strong boundary between communities in your part of Croydon, then this consultation is for you. Alternatively, if you’re simply interested in the way the borough is run, just log on to our website to explore our interactive maps and have your say.
“Your views will make a difference.”
This part of the consultation runs until December 5. “Residents will then have a further chance to have their say after we publish our draft recommendations in February 2017,” Mellors said.So far, the Commission has taken no evidence from anyone other than Croydon’s Tory or Labour groups – even though other parties – mainly UKIP, the Greens and the LibDems – between them polled 30.6 per cent of the vote at the 2014 local elections.
Evidence from such a limited outlook is surely guaranteed to reflect the Croydon political duopoly’s unenlightened self-interest: between them, the borough’s 70 councillors receive £5.9 million of public cash over the course of a four-year term, with an estimated £320,000 of that being transferred straight into the local parties’ coffers.
That’s an unofficial public-funded political subsidy which other parties in Croydon have no opportunity to tap in to. Little wonder, then, that neither Labour or the Tories submitted any proposals to radically reduce the number of councillors, but instead opted to maintain the current cabinet system status quo, which sees 50 councillors holding back bencher status, but little real influence.
What is clear, though, is that the Commissioners saw through the Tories’ politically opportunistic proposal to make a tokenistic 10 councillor reduction.
A ratio of 4,028 voters per councillor in a 70-councillor Town Hall must have seemed high enough for the Commissioners. At 60 councillors, as proposed by the Tories, the ratio would have been 4,699.The Tories’ proposal did not have much of an underlying rationale, beyond trying to score cheap political points locally. It may well have been a fudged compromise within the Tory group that allowed a point to be made about cutting spending on councillor wages, while not risking too many Conservative councillors losing their useful retirement jobs to add to their pension income.
If their proposal had been built around a clear rationale of a directly elected mayor and a Town Hall chamber with a single councillor for each of the borough’s 24 (as at present) or more wards – in a manner similar to how the London Assembly operates – it might have been more convincing to the Commissioners. But the Tories have gone strangely quiet about the elected mayor proposal – funnily enough, ever since Gavin Barwell got his ministerial job in Theresa May’s government.
Proposing a radical cut would have been more honest. Just as at City Hall, a smaller number of truly full-time councillors, dedicated to holding the council’s political leadership to account, would also have more chance of keeping the executive in check and would have made more sense from the Tories.
There may even be cross-party support for such an approach. Inside Croydon understands that there are some senior members of the local Labour Party, outside the councillors of course, who would have preferred to see a much lower number of councillors proposed.
And despite Croydon going through two separate boundary reviews, in the end the political balance of the town may not change that much.
Yes, there are Tory wards that are badly undersized – Selsdon and Ballards is 20 per cent too small, Coulsdon East 17 per cent, Heathfield 14 per cent and Sanderstead 14 per cent. But central Croydon’s Fairfield ward, with its burgeoning number of “executive apartments”, is 51 per cent oversized. This Tory-held ward may need to be split into two, yielding three extra Conservative councillors.
On the bald numbers, the Conservatives enjoy an over-representation on the council of just 1.025 per cent.
So there is still all to play for for both parties in a review that Labour called for originally hoping to gain a political advantage.
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