'Bad day' for democracy as number of Suffolk county councillors slashed from 75 to 70
Today has been declared a bad day for local democracy after proposals to slash the number of councillors in Suffolk can be revealed.
The Local Government Boundary Commission has today published its final recommendations for Suffolk County Council, and has announced that the number of councillors at Ipswich-based Endeavour House will be cut by five to 70.
The plans to reduce the number of members was backed by Suffolk's ruling Conservatives, as well as Labour councillors, but has been bitterly opposed by the county's other opposition members.
Cllr Andrew Stringer, leader of the opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independents Group, blasted the changes, and said: "These indefensible proposals are a bad day for truly accountable local democracy."
The Upper Gipping councillor added: "We have been clear all along, the reduction of five councillors was not based on the needs of our rural county but simply a numbers exercise."
As part of the changes, which will almost certainly be rubber stamped by parliament and be in place for the 2023 election, the commission has announced there will be 68 single-councillor divisions and one two-councillor division of Beccles and Kessingland.
And the boundaries of all but one ward will be changing, which has also drawn criticism from the Green party member.
"Given the amount of communities now being cut away from their divisions against their wishes, or the wishes and the reasoning of the boundary commission itself less than three years ago, is staggering.
"This has so little to encourage democratic accountability or communities feeling empowered."
Meanwhile, Robert Lindsay, Green councillor for Cosford, said: "We think ideally there should be more councillors not fewer. The numbers of county councillors in Suffolk were already cut from 80 to 75 a few years ago."
Fewer councillors means less representation for residents, Mr Lindsay argued.
"It also means each councillor has to cover a larger area, which in many areas means many more parish councils and parish council meetings," he added.
"There are already issues with many county councillors not being able to attend parish council meetings because they both occur on the same evening, this will only get worse when the area each county councillor has to cover gets larger."
Mr Lindsay said there should a more diverse range of candidates should be actively recruited, including more women and ethnic minorities, to 'better reflect' Suffolk's population.
The Local Government Boundary Commission is an independent body which draws boundaries for council areas, and said it reviewed Suffolk to make sure that all councillors represent about the same number of electors.
It said the new arrangements would help the council work effectively, and has been working on the proposals since October 2018.
These final recommendations have come after a series of consultations with councils, councillors and residents across Suffolk.
The body is retaining the two-member Beccles and Kessingland division after it considered the evidence received at all stages of the review and concluded that the proposal avoids dividing a number of communities that have expressed shared interests.
And there are also a number of changes in Bury St Edmunds on the back of responses the organisation received.
It has created a single councillor Abbeygate and Minden ward, and St Olaves and Tollgate division. These are based on existing district wards in Bury St Edmunds.
Professor Colin Mellors, chairman of the commission, backed the changes. "We believe the new arrangements will guarantee electoral fairness while maintaining local ties," he said.
"We are very grateful to people in Suffolk. We looked at all the views they gave us. They helped us improve our earlier proposals."