To consider the attached report.
Contact Officer: Nick.Graham@buckinghamshire.gov.uk
The Committee received a report and were informed that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) had indicated that it intended to conduct an electoral review of the newly established Buckinghamshire Council. Preliminary discussions had taken place with the Chairman and Chief Executive of the LGBCE to understand the arrangements for such a review. Through these discussions, it had been established that:
· the model of 147 members would remain in place for the 2021 elections, with the wards based on the former County Council divisional boundaries.
· the electoral review would examine Buckinghamshire Council’s electoral arrangements and cover the following areas:
- the total number of members to be elected to the Council.
- the number and boundaries of future electoral divisions.
- the number of councillors representing each electoral division; and
- the name of each electoral division.
· the outcome of the Electoral Review would take effect from the 2025 elections, although the precise timeframe for the stages of the Reviews were yet to be confirmed.
It was explained that the principal aim of the review was to deliver electoral equality across the local authority area by ensuring that all councillors represented a similar number of voters. The LGBCE had published detailed technical guidance for those who wished to participate in the review. The LGBCE was required by law to be impartial, with its decisions based on evidence and reason. The representations of all those taking part in the review would be treated equally and without bias.
The Committee report contained a table that gave an indication of the timescales the LGBCE normally worked to when conducting Reviews, which included:-
· Preliminary Period – informal dialogue with Local Authority – up to 6 months.
· Council size decision – consultation period leading to a ‘minded to’ decision on the council size, i.e. number of Councillors – 5 weeks.
· Consultation on future Warding / Division arrangements – 12 weeks.
· Development of draft recommendations – 12 weeks.
The Standards and General Purpose Committee had been delegated authority to deal with election arrangements, however, the LGBCE’s guidance had made it clear that the Council would need to prepare extensive information for consideration by the LGBCE and facilitate the involvement of all relevant stakeholders. It was therefore suggested that the Committee should establish a Member Working Group to oversee the preparation of the relevant information and a communication and engagement plan. The draft terms of reference for the Member working group were attached at Appendix 1 to the agenda.
The submission of the relevant information required by the LGBCE would be approved by the Standards and General Purposes Committee.
Members were also informed that the role of the LGBCE in the creation, abolition or amendments to the external boundaries of Parish Councils was limited. The LGBCE Technical Guidance indicated that Parish Councils were crucial in the work of the LGBCE in conducting a review and it was important that Parish Councils’ involvement in the Electoral Review was actively encouraged.
The Committee was advised that the LGBCE guidance on Community Governance Reviews (CGR) stated that while it might be appropriate for a local authority to undertake a CGR at the same time as an electoral review, this could also cause administrative difficulties and confusion for local people. As such, any authority contemplating this approach was strongly advised to discuss this with the LGBCE in advance.
On 7 January, 2020, the Shadow Authority for Buckinghamshire had considered a CGR for High Wycombe and decided to defer the decision until the establishment of the new Unitary authority, acknowledging that further consultation might well be necessary. In discussion with the LGBCE, they had given strong advice that the Council should wait until the Electoral Review had been completed before conducting any CGRs. The reason for this was that the LGBCE would need to ensure that the boundaries of parish wards and unitary council wards were coterminous. If the Council completed a CGR and decided parish wards in advance of the Electoral Review, it was likely that they would need to change again. Waiting for the outcome of the Electoral Review and having certainty about the boundaries of the new unitary wards would be the best way of ensuring that any CGR outcomes were sustainable in the longer term. In the light of the LGBCE’s Guidance, it was recommended to the Committee that the decision on the CGR for High Wycombe be postponed until after the Electoral Review or until such time as the LGBCE considered it appropriate.
Longwick-cum-Ilmer Parish Council had also requested a CGR to seek to increase the number of councillors from 7 to 9 to reflect the increase in housing and population. Again, for the reasons detailed to the Committee, It was not considered that the proposal for this CGR met the test as advised by LGBCE and it was recommended that a decision on commencing this CGR was deferred until the outcome of the Electoral Review.
It was further recommended to Members that any further requests received for CGRs should be considered in the light of the LGBCE advice that such reviews would ordinarily be deferred and should only be acceded to in very exceptional circumstances.
Members commented as follows:-
· it would be important for the Electoral Review, and subsequent CGRs, to ensure that Town/Parish boundaries were co-terminus with Buckinghamshire Council boundaries.
· Given that the first CGRs in relation to the High Wycombe had been submitted 2 years ago, it would be important the CGRs were finalised as soon as possible following the Electoral Review. It was also suggested that, if possible, the CGR should look at the viability of elections for a High Wycombe parished area being held in 2022 or 2023, rather than waiting until 2025.
· it was important for the Electoral Review to be Member-led and, as such, recommendations 2 and 5 should be re-worded to authorise the Members’ Working Group, in consultation with the Monitoring Officer, to agree the actions.
· they were supportive of the membership of the Members’ Working Group being increased from 5 to 9 Members (7 Conservative Group, 2 Alliance Group).
· they had some concerns with the new Council rushing to undertake an Electoral Review before the initial elections had even been held, and that it might be more appropriate to show a bit of caution in this regard. (Members were informed that the review process was largely driven by the LGBCE, rather than the Buckinghamshire Council).
It was proposed by Councillor Collingwood, seconded by Councillor G Harris, and
(1) That the indication from the Local Government Boundary Commission for England’s (LGBCE) that it proposed to undertake an Electoral Review of Buckinghamshire be noted.
(2) That the Members’ Working Group, in consultation with the Monitoring Officer, be authorised to agree the proposed timetable for the Review process with the LGBCE.
(3) That a Member Working Group of 9 Members be established oversee the work of officers in the preparation of the statistical and other information required by the LGBCE and to approve the Terms of Reference for that working group (at Appendix 1).
(4) That Officers be authorised, in consultation with the Working Group, to develop a communication and engagement plan for Members, Parish Councils, residents and other stakeholders to maximise participation in the Electoral Review.
(5) That the Members’ Working Group, in consultation with the Monitoring Officer, be authorised to prepare the necessary submissions to the LGBCE for consideration and approval by the Standards & General Purpose Committee.
(6) That consideration of the decision for the Community Governance Review for High Wycombe and Longwick-cum-Ilmer be deferred until the completion of the Electoral Review or until such time as the LGBCE considered it appropriate, whichever is the sooner.
(7) That, in accordance with the LGBCE advice, consideration of any future Community Governance Review requests should only be approved in very exceptional circumstances during the period of the Electoral Review.
- Standards General Purpose Committee - Electoral Review Final (02 07 2020), item 6. PDF 363 KB
- App 1 - ToR Electoral Review Working Group, item 6. PDF 217 KB
- LGBCE Technical Guidance Electoral Reviews, item 6. PDF 396 KB
- LGBCE Council Size Submission Guidance, item 6. PDF 171 KB
- High Wycombe CGR papers and Shadow Authority decision 7 January 2020, item 6. PDF 101 KB