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Why Gloucestershire needs fewer councillors

Hawthorne Cllr Mark Hawthorne, the Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, says councillors need to be able to look staff in the eye when imposing job losses 

There are plenty of politicians talking about job cuts at the moment. But, it’s not often you’ll hear about cuts to politicians. Last week, Gloucestershire County Council announced that 1000 staff, one in six of those we employ, will lose their jobs in the next few years. This week, I was pleased to learn that councillors will not be immune from the same risk.

Back in 2009, Gloucestershire applied to the Boundary Commission for England to carry out an electoral review to remove the multi-member wards in the county. They’d proven to be particularly unpopular, particularly where two councillors of opposing parties shared the division. As Conservatives, however, we also saw the opportunity to look at the total number of councillors on the council and make sure that the taxpayer got value for money from the people they elect.

As the review began, earlier this year, we were painfully aware of the savings that Gloucestershire County Council was going to have to make. Our budget of around £400m will have to reduce by £108m pa over the next four years. Whilst we worked very hard to save money through efficiency alone, in a people-centred business, like a council, that could only mean job losses.

With that in mind, we opposed Lib Dem and Labour plans to push for the status quo and protect councillor’s jobs. The Conservative Group’s submission  argued two main points. Firstly that, as the responsibilities and the budget of the council decreased, so should the number of councillors who are required to control it. Secondly, that the average number of constituents per councillor was a good starting point to ensure councillors were providing value for money.

I was really pleased this week to find that the Boundary Committee had rejected the Labour and Lib Dem argument and accepted the Conservative proposal. From 2013 the number of councillors on Gloucestershire County Council will be reduced from 63 to 53 – approximately the same as the 1 in 6 cut that will affect our staff.

I think it is incumbent upon all politicians to show leadership during the difficult times we face. To me, it is not acceptable for staff to face cuts, while councillors remain immune. I know, from the proposal to cut the total number of MPs, that this is a view that David Cameron shares. It will be difficult for the councillors who lose out after the seats are redrawn – but it is very much tougher still for those people who will lose their jobs. At least now councillors can look them in the eye.


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