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120 councillors ‘not enough’ for Birmingham, we need 150 says Sir Albert

120 councillors ‘not enough’ for Birmingham, we need 150 says Sir Albert

🕔04.Mar 2015

The number of elected members on Birmingham city council should be increased from 120 to 150, the leader of the council Sir Albert Bore has argued.

Sir Albert told Chamberlain Files he believed 30 additional councillors were needed to properly represent Birmingham’s population which is on course to hit 1.2 million by 2031.

His comments are out of line with the Kerslake Review into the council’s governance capabilities which pointed out Birmingham council is already larger than the United States Senate and concluded there are too many councillors and the number should be reduced to 100 or fewer.

Sir Albert made his views clear shortly before a council meeting which was marked by the failure of all 120 councillors either to turn up or vote for the annual budget. When votes were taken at the end of the meeting 20 councillors did not participate.

It remains unclear whether any or all of the 20 did not attend the meeting, turned up to sign in and then went home, or simply couldn’t bring themselves to vote.

The council leader said he was sceptical about Kerslake’s recommendations on the size of the council and a suggestion that three member wards should be replaced by fewer single member wards.

Sir Albert said: “I think if you reduce below 120 to 100 councillors you get to the point where the number of electors per member is too big for the individual councillor to work effectively.

“If you had 100 councillors that would be 10,000 electors per member.”

He argued that on a pro rata basis comparing Birmingham to neighbouring councils the city has fewer councillors than the average. On that basis Birmingham should be represented by 150 councillors, Sir Albert added.

He admitted however that his view is likely to be in the minority and that the Boundary Commission which is undertaking a review of Birmingham’s warding arrangements would be under pressure to recommend reducing the size of the council.

The Government has already confirmed that Birmingham city council will move to all-out elections from 2017, replacing the current system of electing one-third of members each year.

The Kerslake Review says Birmingham’s wards are “simply too big” for councillors to be able to represent their residents effectively.

Fifteen of the 20 wards with the largest population in England are in Birmingham. In total 73 per cent of the largest wards in the country are in the city. The result is councillors have a heavy workload and can find it challenging to represent all their residents, Kerslake found.

Kerslake continues: “By moving to predominantly single member wards, reducing the number of councillors and at the same time increasing the number of wards it is possible to alleviate the pressure of population growth while increasing accountability and saving money.

“For example, by creating 100 mainly single member wards the average population of a ward in the city could be reduced to just 10,730 from 13,413. This would result in a direct saving of around £1.6 million over five years.

“We are not making a recommendation on the number of wards in the city as that is for others to determine but our view is there needs to be a significant reduction on the current number of councillors.”

Birmingham city council must make its final submission to the Boundary Commission by May 22 setting out its views on the size of the authority and warding arrangements. It is likely the three political parties will send separate submissions.

In its guidance notes on electoral reviews the commission notes that many councils have remained unchanged in size since local government reorganisation in 1974, but the role and responsibilities of councillors have changed considerably since then.

The guidance adds, perhaps ominously for Birmingham: “We will wish to examine closely proposals for council sizes above 100 councillors.”

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