Report of the Deputy Chief Executive (Place)
To consider the above petition, bearing 24 signatures, which has been submitted by the petition organiser, who has been invited to the meeting for the consideration of this item.
The Cabinet Member considered a report of the Deputy Chief Executive (Place) which responded to an e-petition bearing 24 signatures, which had been submitted to the City Council on 29th September, 2018 and closed on 23rd December, 2018. The petition entitled “Reduce the number of councillors in each ward” stated “There are 18 local wards in Coventry and 54 councillors. We want the council to reduce the number of councillors in each ward from 3 to 2 and hold elections once every 4 years instead of the current cycle. This will save money and make the council more efficient.” The petition spokesperson was invited to the meeting but was unable to attend.
With regard to reducing the numbers of councillors in each ward, the report noted that local authorities had no powers to alter the number of councillors. The Local Government Boundary Commission for England was the independent body responsible for carrying out electoral reviews. An electoral review was an examination of a council’s electoral arrangements covering:
• the total number of councillors elected to the local authority;
• the number and boundaries of wards or divisions for the purposes of the election of councillors;
• the number of councillors for any ward or division of a local authority;
• the name of any ward or division.
The Commission were responsible for setting their own work programme and may consider carrying out a review of a council for two reasons:
• at the request of the local authority; or
• If the local authority meets the Commission’s intervention criteria:
a) If one ward has an electorate of +/-30% from the average electorate for the authority
b) If 30% of all wards have an electorate of +/-10% from the average electorate for the authority.
The timeframe for such reviews was normally around 18 months and would involve the commitment of human and financial resources from the local authority to support the review. While a local authority was able to request a review, the decision on councillor numbers was made by the Boundary Commission which may not recommend any change. For comparison, the report detailed the population, number of councillors and ratio for all of the seven West Midlands Metropolitan Councils.
With regard to changing the pattern of elections, the report noted that Elections to Coventry City Council were by thirds; elections take place three out of every four years with each councillor being elected for a term of four years. Legislation allowed for alternative models including whole-council elections. Whole-council elections would take place every four years with every seat being up for election at the same time.
The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (as amended) enabled councils to consider moving to whole-council elections from elections by thirds or halves. If a Council was considering passing a resolution for whole-council elections, it had to take reasonable steps to consult such persons as it thinks appropriate on the proposed change. The final resolution must be passed at a meeting specially convened for the purpose of deciding the resolution with notice of the object, and by a majority of at least two thirds of the members voting on it. If a Council moved from elections by thirds to whole-council elections, it could go back to election by thirds at a later date but could not move to elections by halves. The Council could pass a resolution at any point to move to whole-council elections the only restriction being that the move cannot take place in a fallow year. The next fallow year for Coventry is 2021. It was anticipated that the introduction of whole Council elections would deliver cost savings over time, although some caution needs to be applied to any estimates as the pattern of other elections to the Police and Crime Commissioner, West Midlands Combined Authority and general elections had a significant impact on cost, and the costs of elements of elections may change over time. The approximate costs of current elections, together with an estimate of the potential savings that could be achieved should whole council elections be introduced were shown in the report. Where elections were combined with national elections the costs were shared depending on the number of polls taking place on the day. It was not an exact split as there were some costs which were needed for each election such as ballot papers. The estimated costs were based on current information, however, if the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and West Midlands Combined Authority Mayor (WMCA) elections were to be combined then the costs would be more and the potential annual savings from any change reduced.
The introduction of whole-council elections would be a significant change for electors and would require clear information advising them of their ability to select more than one candidate. It would also have an impact on the count process, where the selection of three candidates from the ballot paper would mean the count process would take longer.
There were no direct financial implications arising from the initial decision on how to respond to the issues raised in the petition. Should Council take the decision to hold local elections on a four year cycle, this could save the Council in the region of £100,000 on an annualised basis. The outcomes of any review carried out by the Boundary Commission may not result in a reduction in the number of councillors and in this case would not deliver a financial saving.
The Petition spokesperson was unable to attend however, he had send a response to the report to the Cabinet Member. His response questioned costs to support a review and requested that the Council ask for a review by the Boundary Commission and also consult with Council members and the public about moving to whole council elections in order to save money.
The Shadow Cabinet Member asked about the cost savings.
RESOLVED that the Cabinet Member:
1. Consider the detail in the report and determine what action if any should be taken in response to the issues raised in the petition
2. Request that no further action be taken