Members of Lincolnshire County Council have been divided in their opinions on a report recommending that the number of councillors should be reduced.
The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has published its final recommendations for new electoral arrangements for Lincolnshire County Council.
It has recommended that Lincolnshire should be represented by 70 county councillors in the future: seven fewer than the current arrangement.
The proposed new arrangements must now be implemented by Parliament and could come into force for the county council elections in 2017.
Professor Colin Mellors, chair of the commission, said: “Across the county, we have sought to balance the views expressed to us by local people with the criteria we must apply when we are deciding on new electoral arrangements.”
A reduction in councillors has been welcomed by council leader Martin Hill.
In a letter to the commission, he said: “Most of our services are now outsourced and, as we roll‐out the commissioning model, oversight and scrutiny will focus on agreed outcomes instead of delivery methods and process.
“This important function will require better focus and organisation which will not be as demanding of time for councillors, but hopefully will add quality.
“The expectation from government is that councils will move away from direct delivery and concentrate on place‐shaping and “holding the ring” locally.
“Our new contract with Serco will bring improvements to our website and transactional arrangements, which will make it much easier to self serve by individuals and groups. This will also remove workload for councillors.
“In summary, all the evidence points towards a reduction in councillors and, as the organisation shrinks in number of
employees, it is only appropriate that it is matched by elected representatives.
“This will also be a cost saving in financially difficult times.”
Councillors provide “valuable service”
The Labour group on Lincolnshire County Council has criticised the recommendations.
Councillor Robert Parker said: “We do not take the view that fewer councillors is a ‘good thing’ particularly in a large rural county like Lincolnshire.
“We recognise that democracy does cost money but argue that county councillors provide a valuable service to local people by representing their needs and problems to decision makers.
“It is noteworthy that at a time when the number of county councillors is being reduced across Lincolnshire we still have an unwanted Police and Crime Commissioner and are being forced by central government into electing a Mayor to head the Greater Lincolnshire Combined Authority.”
Someone who has given her vocal support to the recommendations is UKIP county councillor, and former PCC candidate, Victoria Ayling.
She said: “I’ve always believed that less government is more – in reality, I think there’s too many MPs.
“Residents will not suffer as all divisions will be equal. There won’t be any more small divisions which are not of value to the taxpayer.
“Efficiencies are very important at the moment. We live in times where a lot of people are strapped for cash and have to make efficiencies. I see no reason why local government should be any different.”
Disadvantage to rural areas
The recommendations have been criticised by the Lincolnshire Independents, who have claimed it will negatively effect rural areas in the county.
Leader of the Lincolnshire Independents Marianne Overton said: “Making areas too large may seem efficient, but results in disconnecting residents from their elected representative.
“Each councillor representing the same number of electorate disadvantages rural areas. Here some councillors have vast rural areas of disconnected communities on poor single track roads.
“Anything that undermines or breaks that democratic link plays into the hands of national parties controlling the agenda from Westminster.”