Following initial consultations on number of councillors and suggestions for wards, the LGBCE published draft recommendations on 26/3/10 and invited comments. The final stage of the consultation closed on 11/6/10.
My blog mostly focuses on the issue of numbers of councillors per ward although many people put forward specific boundary and ward naming suggestions.
17 submissions were made by politicians and political groups. Notably, none of these complimented the LGBCE on the bizarre mix of 1, 2 and 3 member wards in their draft proposals and many argued strongly against a mix. The local labour and conservative parties, the council’s conservative group and councillors Dave Sutton, Peter Kent-Baguley and Mick Salih argued in favour of single member wards. Arguments include the scale of campaigning and the number of electorate associated with each councillor being smaller and more manageable and avoiding dominance of social housing areas over smaller communities. In contrast councillor Mike Coleman argued in favour of two member wards to better serve residents. Other councillors had also argued this in the previous stage of the consultation. Joan Walley MP accepts single member wards but only if councillors are adequately resourced, which she doesn’t see that they are. Rob Flello MP wants either only single member wards or only multimember wards but does not mind a mix of 2 and 3 member wards. Democracy for Stoke made a more general submission for more councillors, a power of recall and a uniform system.
Personally I think all these submissions make some good points. I want a uniform system for democracy, equality, fairness and clear and effective local government. I don’t mind whether this is 1 or 2 member wards but I am against a mixture. Of the above submissions I agree most with Mike Coleman on the basis that the 2 member ward solution takes best democratic account of the arguments made in the previous stage of the consultation from ordinary residents and their associations, who overwhelmingly preferred multimember wards and were opposed to single member wards.
21 submissions were made by local orgnisations. There are no strong arguments from residents’ associations for single member wards although Hartshill and Harpfields RA, Newford RA and Penkhull RA accept or support the mix proposed. Other RAs maintain a strong argument for two member wards; Brindley Ford RA, Chell Area RA, Fegge Hayes RA and Woodfarm RA. These are all pushing for pairs of proposed single member wards to be joined together in the interests of community links and identity. Organisations arguing in favour of single member wards are the Governance and Transition Board, the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce and St. Modwen.
Who matters more, local residents and their associations or large companies and unelected interfering bodies? I say the former. I think this quote from a former “ËœUnreasonably Persistent Complainant’ is well worthy of mention. He describes the draft proposals as “an increasingly desperate and dysfunctional political establishment trying to keep power by gerrymandering ward boundaries to exclude new political groups with policies relevant to our peoples needs” (dated 12/4/10). Well said ex-UPC! What bothers me is that the new government with its supposed “Ëœlocalism’ agenda has nevertheless done nothing to counteract the interference in our democracy imposed by the previous one. Different party in charge ““ same old establishment.
126 submissions were made by residents. These show well how certain groups have engaged with the process and written many letters and some petitions to make strong views known. Particular cases are to use the name Hartshill and Basford instead of Cliff Vale and Stoke, support for inclusion of the Meadow Lane estate into Trentham and Hanford, support for the boundaries of the Dresden and Florence ward, a call for the Tunstall North RA area to be wholly in Tunstall rather than cut in two and to use the name Sneyd Green Village or Moorcroft instead of Cobridge.
Some residents still argue against the reduction in the number of councillors; Shaun Bennett, Patricia Dixon, Mr and Mrs Ruscoe, James Tongue, an unnamed contributor and myself. But a few favour the reduction; P L Field, Peter Grady and Roger Leverett. Mr A Bloor argues for community councillors as well as city councillors.
In terms of councillors per ward, Heather Davie, Andrew and Karen Pate and Graham Simm agree with the mix proposed. Shaun Bennett, P L Field and D Leverton favour single member wards. More favour 2 member wards; Susan Dennis, Patricia Dixon, Lydia Palmer, Iain Robinson, A E Snape, Mrs Taylor and myself. Michael Dixon and Ann James argue against single member wards. Mr and Mrs Ruscoe and the unnamed contributor want 3 member wards (without reducing councillor numbers). Some argue specifically against a mix of ward types and for a uniform system; Patricia Dixon, Michael Dixon, Iain Robinson and myself.
The balance of the quantity and quality of all the arguments indicate to me that the LGBCE should in a fair and reasonable world conclude that a uniform system of two member wards be proposed to parliament. We await their conclusion.
Furthermore if the current government really believes in localism it will throw out the entire recommendation when it comes before parliament and reverse the order for all out elections, on the basis that these were imposed by the previous bunch of labour dictators against the will of our council and the majority of local people. If parliament were to reject the LGBCE recommendation we would keep 60 councillors and the current 20 wards at 3 councillors per ward. A government order overturning the last one would be needed to restore elections by thirds.