A Derbyshire council has pushed ahead with plans to cut the number of councillors it has – because they have fewer services to oversee.
Derbyshire Dale District Council last night (Wednesday, July 15) approved early plans to reduce its size from 39 councillors to 34.
This a slight step back from initial plans to cut back to 33 councillors.
The move is largely motivated by the reduction in responsibilities the council has after outsourcing leisure centres and bin collections and selling off its housing stock.
This, says Sandra Lamb, the authority’s director of corporate services, has left councillors with less to do.
She also pointed out in a report that the move would save the authority – which is not “cash rich” – thousands in councillor expenses.
It also comes with the forecast that the electorate in Ashbourne South will surge by more than 50 per cent by 2026.
Meanwhile voters in Bakewell and Masson (the Matlock Bath area) are set to drop by a fifth.
Last night Ms Lamb said some areas in the Dales, particularly in the Peak District National Park, have “stagnated”, with very little new development in recent years while others have had lots since 1999.
Ms Lamb said, overall, the district has taken more than 20 years to achieve the growth others have seen in 10 years or less.
She said the aim is to reduce voter inequality by splitting elected representatives up fairly.
Ms Lamb said some parts of Ashbourne are “very much in the red alert zone” with regards to the influx of housing and forecast electorate growth.
She said: “Decision making processes of the council have faced significant contraction in recent years. we are not a cash-rich authority and we are limited by the availability of our finances.
“We need to decide what the optimal number of councillors is that we need to run this authority.”
She said councillors should not focus on which wards are “red, blue or whatever” and not rely on current ward layouts, just the number of councillors needed to run the authority, based on facts.
Cllr Garry Purdy, leader of the authority, said: “We have lost about half the number of staff and there has been lots of development and lots of mergers. This authority is a shadow of its former self in size.”
He says the council must not get hung up on the numbers and says in future local government reorganisation plans the district could be scrapped altogether.
Cllr Purdy said: “There are sweeping changes around the corner and getting hung up on figures is quite frankly, pointless.”
Central government plans to cut the 218 district and county councils by around two-thirds through mergers into unitary authorities in what would be the largest reorganisation of local government for 35 years.
Detailed plans are expected in the next few weeks or months, it is thought.
Cllrs Mike Ratcliffe and Martin Burfoot said they had not seen reductions in their workloads and that deleting councillor positions could result in a “democratic deficit”.
Cllr Colin Swindell said his workload has not reduced but suggests that may be that constituents in some wards may be more “content” than others and some elected members may be less “engaged” with residents.
Cllr Pete O’Brien said: “Local democracy is absolutely paramount and when we vote we should be improving on democracy. If we vote to reduce the authority by five we will be increasing everyone’s workload by 22 per cent. It will have a detrimental effect on local democracy.”