Councils who are looking to merge, change the number of councillors representing the authority or move their external boundaries receive a boost today as the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) publishes new technical guidance.
The LGBCE’s guidance covers both its main types of review work: electoral reviews and Principal Area Boundary Reviews (PABRs). The two documents, which are available at www.lgbce.org.uk, set out how the Commission will conduct its work on keeping the map of local government in England in good order as well as promoting electoral equality for voters in local elections.
The new guidance aims to simplify the electoral review process for some reviews. In doing so, the guidance increases capacity so that the Commission can respond to requests from councils who wish to change council size (the number of councillors), or move to single-member wards as well as introducing a new programme of boundary reviews to deal with the external boundaries of local authorities: from clearing up minor anomalies to whole-council mergers.
Chair of the Commission, Max Caller, said, “The Commission has unique powers to help local authorities meet the considerable challenges they currently face. Our new guidance means we can use those powers to make our review programme more efficient, proportionate to the scale of the changes proposed and, crucially, more responsive to the needs of the local government community.
“At a time when a lot of local authorities are thinking about possible changes to their governance structures and boundaries, we want to be in a position to help them achieve their aims. Whether local authorities want to reduce or increase the number of councillors representing the authority or if they want to merge, this guidance will tell councillors and staff how we’ll work with them and local people to see if we can make it happen.
In November 2010, the LGBCE consulted all principal local authorities in England about the new guidance and put forward a series of proposals to shorten review timetables. The guidance, published today, will be effective for all future electoral reviews and PABRs.
Max Caller said, “During the consultation phase of this process, local authorities overwhelmingly backed our plans to make the review process more proportionate to the scale of the changes proposed so that that some reviews could last as little as six months – a reduction of 50% from the current arrangements. Councils were also supportive of our aim to open up the review process to respond to requests for reviews and there is clearly an appetite out there for considering changes of the kind for which the LGCBE is responsible.
“It’s fair to say that many councils haven’t had an opportunity to consider their governance arrangements since the profound changes made by the Local Government Act 2000 or by the changes coming through the localism agenda. Our guidance should help them come to a conclusion as to whether the Commission can help them. An electoral review or a boundary review certainly won’t be right for all authorities and, in the case of mergers, we will be looking for clear evidence of local consent, but we hope our guidance provides clarity on these important issues.
“In the past few months we have received around 40 requests from local authorities who are thinking about an electoral review or a boundary review. We have committed to addressing as many of those requests for reviews as our resources allow though we also remain committed to our primary objective to deliver electoral equality for voters in local government elections in England.
“In the coming year, we will be conducting at least seven reviews in response to direct requests we’ve received from councils either to examine the number of councillors representing the authority, to conduct a review with the aim of producing a pattern of single-member wards across the authority or to deal with electoral inequality in that area.
“And in Mid Suffolk and Babergh, local people are currently taking part in a poll to determine whether those authorities should formally approach the Commission to conduct a review with a view to a whole-council merger. We’re aware of a small number of other councils who are in the early stages of considering a review. We hope this guidance can help other authorities take a view as to whether a review would be right for them.
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