Fit For Purpose Elmbridge – Smaller Council, Better Council

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Fit For Purpose Elmbridge – Smaller Council, Better Council

From next May the number of Elmbridge Councillors will be reduced by 20% from the current 60 to 48 members. Many residents may be surprised that the composition of the Council hasn’t altered in almost 40 years; how many businesses and organizations retain the same structures, let alone employees, as they did 40 years ago? So the first question that needs asking is simply, ‘Why should Elmbridge Council be an exception to a process that its 130,000 residents have experienced in their own lives’?

That is not to argue that the roles of Councils and Councillors have not changed since the 1970s. Far from it: they have and in many instances fundamentally. And that reinforces the second argument for a reduction in members. Because the sad/welcome (depending on your view!) but incontrovertible fact is that Councils possess significantly less power and scope than probably they have ever had. Here in Elmbridge, to cite just three examples:

• We sold all our Council housing in 2000 to Elmbridge Housing Trust
• We no longer have responsibility for street maintenance/pot holes etc when Surrey County Council terminated its ‘agency agreement’
• The contracting out of refuse and leisure services resulted in the abolition of our direct labour department.

If we then factor in the remarkable transformation of individuals and society as whole in recent years, particularly the rise of social media (including innovative community sites as the Hersham Hub) and the ability of residents to communicate directly with authorities (who after all are accountable to them!), then that also has a big impact on the way elected Councillors discharge their responsibilities to their constituents.

I don’t wish to exaggerate these points. Local Councils still have a vital role to play providing high quality services across the whole range of policy (environment, leisure, community support for young and old, highways and traffic etc) and local councillors are indispensable to the democratic process as champions of their area and in resolving problems and responding to concerns of individual residents and their families. And dare I say that as far as our Borough is concerned we score highly on both counts irrespective of political affiliation.

But being candid, I strongly believe that having 60 of us is too many in today’s circumstances and that as far as running a Council that continues to face financial austerity for the foreseeable, it’s more ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ than ‘many hands make light work’! As an authority, elected members need to be more focused and more strategic if we are to improve performance and value for money – your money – still further in tough times.

So in 2012 we asked the independent Local Government Boundary Commission (LGBC) to initiate a review which they accepted. In December 2014, they issued their first report in which they accepted that the appropriate size of the Council should be 48.

The New Boundaries – It’s over to you, fellow Hersham Residents

On June 30th, the Commission published its draft proposals for the new 16 wards – each with three Councillors – you can download a copy of the draft proposals here:

Draft Proposals

(or from the EBC website here)

and the accompanying map of the redrawn borough here:

Ward Map

(or from the EBC website here)

For details of the overall review, see

www.elmbridge.gov.uk/council/elections/ElectoralReview

For Hersham, the result is disappointing: of course some revisions were inevitable as the number of voters in each ward will be increased. The moderately good news is that the proposed Hersham Village Ward will large live up to its name. But that is offset by the Commission recommending that:

1. Most of the Longmore Estate be joined with Esher
2. The Burwood Park estate (including Westcar Lane, Eastwick Road and Kenwood Drive) is combined with Oatlands Park
3. Whiteley Village in its entirety is transferred to Weybridge St George’s Hill

Furthermore, it is likely that the impact on Hersham would have been less draconian had the Council decided a few months earlier to move to all-out elections every 4 years, and not retain the current system of one-thirds in rotation. This is because the Commission has been absolutely clear that if a Council elects by thirds it must have three member wards. On the other hand, if elections for all Councillors are held every four years, it will consider two member or even single member districts.

That would have been ideal for Hersham and five of the six Councillors here (Ruth Mitchell, Mary and John Sheldon, Ian Donaldson and I) all voted for that option. Sadly we did not prevail.

However, all is not lost by any means. These recommendations are only the Commission’s initial suggestions. THEY CAN BE AMENDED and a new consultation process has commenced that will continue until August 24th.

I would encourage Hersham Hub readers to make their views known to the Commission by writing to

The Review Officer (Elmbridge)
Local Government Boundary Commission for England
14th floor, Millbank Tower
London
SW1P 4QP

Or email: reviews@lgbce.org.uk

Let Hersham’s voice be heard!
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Related Articles:

Have you joined The Hersham Hub group on Facebook?
www.facebook.com/groups/HershamHubCommunity/
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The Hersham Hub Summer 2015 section
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Drake Park – A view from the developers
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Drake Park: Our Independent Planning Review
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Waterside Drive: Our Independent Planning Review
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Weylands: Our Independent Planning Review
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RES: Rydens School : Our Independent Planning Review
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Lidl: Our Independent Planning Review
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John O'Reilly

John O’Reilly has been a Councillor for Hersham South since May 2005 and Leader of Elmbridge Borough Council since May 2010. He lives in Garrick Close and can be contacted at 253090 or joreilly@elmbridge.gov.uk
www.elmbridge.gov.uk/joreilly

View my other posts

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