This Friday 25th September, Newcastle City Council’s Constitutional Committee debates a report on the optimum number of city councillors, having been asked by the Boundary Commission for its views. The Liberal Democrats in Newcastle believe that the report under consideration fails to cover the many ways in which council activity, and the role of councillors, has reduced in recent years. The report seem to us designed to lead the Committee towards endorsing the current number of councillors, if not more.
"As a result of changes brought in by the Labour administration, there are far fewer commitments for members in committee work, in scrutinising the council’s work and in representing the council on external bodies" says Anita Lower, Liberal Democrat Group Leader. "The whole council has become more centralised and less transparent. Unless things change, and change quickly, there just isn't the need for as many councillors as we have now"
"Our own view, long-held, previously expressed on several occasions, and now backed up by the evidence submitted in our own paper (attached), is that the number of members should be reduced. We suggest 60 members in 20 wards instead of the current 78 members in 26 wards, saving at least £200,000 a year in allowances, pension contributions and related costs.. We will listen to the debate at Constitutional Committee before deciding whether or not to submit our report formally to the Boundary Commission as an alternative to the submission that the City Council makes. However, we are disappointed that most of the comments that we submitted to council officers before their report to the Committee was finalised have been ignored."
"We also remain of the view that elections in Newcastle should change to “all-up” elections every four years (as in Northumberland and Durham) instead of the current arrangements, which are hard to explain to residents, of elections by thirds – actually, three years out of four and with a “fallow” year in the cycle. Whilst this is not formally part of the Boundary Commission review, their officers invited the City Council to give consideration to its position, alongside this review of the number of councillors and the ward boundaries. All-up elections generally attract high voter turnouts, because of the opportunity of each vote potentially to make more of a difference (whether an endorsement of an incumbent administration or to change it). We urge the Council to use this opportunity to review the case for all-up elections every four years in Newcastle, which we believe would also save up to £500,000 over the electoral cycle."