Councillors to be cut by four

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Dumfries and Galloway Council looks set to reduce its elected members to 43, from 47, after the Boundary Commission for Scotland published its recommendations yesterday.

The Wigtown West and Mid Galloway wards, who currently have three councillors each representing them, will be amalgamated and served by four. Dee is to amalgamate with The Glenkens to make one ward served by three councillors.

Commission chair Ronnie Hinds said: “We have submitted to Scottish Ministers our recommendations for electoral arrangements which we believe are in the interests of effective and convenient local government. These recommendations set out the number of councillors for each council area and the boundaries of the wards.

“We are grateful to councils and to the public who responded to our consultations over the last two years. Their input has been invaluable in shaping our proposals and while we must take account of our obligations under the legislation and consider the interests of the whole council area, we have been able to take on board many of the views expressed.

“The legislation which governs our reviews places equality of representation at the heart of what we do and we have delivered a set of recommendations that

significantly improves electoral parity across Scotland and so provides for fairer local democracy and more effective local government.”

Mid Galloway Elected Member Jim McColm commented: “The proposals from the Boundary Commission reflect a preoccupation with electoral parity which ignores the geography of the area and the social and community linkages which exist. In the case of Mid Galloway and Wigtown West this results in a large ward which will stretch from Castle Kennedy, in the west, to Carsluith, in the east, a distance of over 35 miles. How realistic it is for elected members to regularly attend surgeries and community meetings across this area is a matter of conjecture. These proposals may help to equalize voter numbers but I remain unconvinced that in our area it does anything to improve voter representation.”

A spokesperson for Dumfries and Galloway Council added: “Dumfries and Galloway Council considered the Commission’s recommendations for over two years. During this period Full Council agreed unanimously to challenge the Commission’s proposals and subsequently wrote to the Commission, on more than one occasion, objecting to the draft plans and calling for a local inquiry to take place in the region to allow local people to give their views on the proposed new boundaries.

“The letters to the Commission, which contained views, agreed unanimously by Full Council across all groups, set out the Council’s reasoning for its objections. They state that while the Council accepts fully the statutory basis for the Review, it considers that the methodology adopted by the Commission in determining Councillor numbers was arbitrary and lacking in consistency across Scotland.

“The Council agreed to the need for electoral parity, as set out in Legislation, but were of the opinion that no objective reasoning as to why the minimum number of 18 Councillors remains, other than historic precedent. Equally there was no evidence from the Commission as to why a maximum upper limit should be applied.

“The Council went on to question the justification for the use of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, since it is widely accepted that the Index is not a good measure of rural deprivation. This measure resulted in the number of councillors being reduced in Dumfries and Galloway with an increase in the numbers in cities.

“In addition to the above, the Council believes that there is no evidence to support the assumption on the part of the Commission that a Councillor who represents an area which meets the criteria in the Index will have a greater workload than a Councillor who does not. The letter suggested that a cynical view may be that the Index was being used as a device for reducing the numbers of Councillors in rural areas and increasing those in urban conurbations.”

Leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, Councillor Ronnie Nicholson said: “Members of Dumfries and Galloway Council agreed unanimously across all groups to challenge the proposals by the boundary commission because the methodology they used for the number of Councillors for our Region, and therefore the subsequent crazy new Ward boundaries were completely flawed. The Commission simply made up the new methodology, which isn’t covered by the rules or laws they are supposed to follow, and I think that shows they are a law unto themselves accountable to no one.”

“I think the fact that they refused to even hold a local inquiry to allow local people in the area to have their views heard and put forward alternatives to the flawed proposals shows the weakness in their Commission’s plans. If the council objected to a Parliamentary boundary proposal, there would be a local inquiry. But local government as usual is treated as second class citizens and the objection has been ignored with no opportunity for local people to properly have their say at an inquiry. Some of the new wards will cover huge geographical areas and show contempt for local community links. They will mean local councillors are even most distant from the communities they represent and that’s bad news for local communities.

“The Commission’s flawed plans across Scotland have been roundly condemned by councils but the Commission aren’t prepared to listen and it is likely that these plans will simply be passed to Government Ministers to be rubber stamped.”