What exactly is the Local Government Boundary Commission up to? Is Cornwall being used as a pilot project to see how far they can get away with cutting back democratic representation in local government? Or is it being singled out in order to smooth the path for its ongoing transformation, as our coastal areas become a safely domesticated bolthole for the rich and our inland towns over-populated, congested rat runs?
In line with neoliberal dogma, there’s a general trend these days to prune back democratic representation in local government with fewer councillors representing more people each so maybe Cornwall is just experiencing the same change as anywhere else. The Boundary Commission’s website lists all the current boundary reviews. Cornwall is one of 16 comparable unitary authorities being reviewed. Let’s put it in context in the following table.
|Current size||Proposed size||Change||Proposed residents per cllr|
|Bath & NE Somerset||65||59||– 9%||3,182|
|Cheshire W & Chester||75||70||– 7%||4,795|
|Redcar & Cleveland||59||59||n/c||2,295|
|South Gloucs||70||61||– 13%||4,551|
|West Berks||52||43||– 17%||3,647|
|Windsor & Maidenhead||57||43||– 25%||3,461|
As can be seen from this table, its treatment is exceptional. Seven of the unitary councils are seeing no change to their council size. The mean reduction in the other eight (excluding Cornwall) is 15%. The proposed reduction for Cornwall is almost twice that again – at an eye watering 29%. The only authorities that come anywhere close to this in terms of change are Blackburn and Windsor. But in comparison with Cornwall these are very small and their councillors will be asked to represent far fewer residents than in Cornwall. In fact, in terms of the number of residents per councillor Cornwall looks to be treated more like a densely populated urban area. Even here, only in Leeds will councillors represent more people than in Cornwall.
Cornwall’s reduced number of elected representatives will each have to represent more people than their colleagues in Manchester, Hull, Newcastle, Rotherham and Croydon. They will have to represent twice the number of people as councillors will in Bath, Blackburn or Redcar and four times the number in Rutland. Are Cornwall’s councillors particularly energetic? Are they super-human? The Boundary Commission apparently thinks so.
Is this proper? Is it fair? Is it just? We need to ask the Boundary Commission why they’re treating Cornwall so differently from everywhere else. But they’re refusing to tell us.