Council Delays Decision On Reducing Number Of Members
Councillors have deferred making a decision on reducing the number of elected members on each island after there was confusion about whether they actually need to make any changes.
The proposal to have just a single councillor on each off-island and 11 on St Mary’s, reducing the total from 22 to 15, was put forward at last week’s Full Council meeting.
Senior Officer Richard Burraston said it was likely that the Boundary Commission, the government body which looks into how people are represented, would review Scilly’s situation between now and 2021.
Cllr Gordon Bilsborough, who supported the plans, said it would even up the number of electors per councillor and provide the possibility of increasing the annual allowance from the current £3,412 a year
That, he felt, would make the role more attractive for a wider cross section of the community, particularly those already in work.
Cllr Avril Mumford didn’t agree. She wanted to keep the two councillors for each off-island.
But Avril wanted to reduce the number on St Mary’s, saying they already had a problem getting members from that island to attend the chamber.
Council Chairman Amanda Martin agreed. She said off-island members attended better than St Mary’s members, although the Council’s own published figures from May to September this year show this isn’t actually the case.
Off-island councillors turned up on average for 75% of the meetings they were scheduled to attend, while that figure was almost identical for St Mary’s councillors, at 73%.
Cllr Mike Nelhams looked at the problem from a different view. He felt that with just 15 councillors, they’d have problems filling all of the committees.
But Cllr Chris Savill wanted more information about why the recommendation was being made and how the Boundary Commission would undertake any review.
Richard Burraston said the agency would come to the islands and consult with members and the public before making any decisions.
And he confirmed that if councillors didn’t make a recommendation, “it will be done to us” anyway.
That raised concerns for Cllr Marian Bennett, who felt any outside body wouldn’t understand the unique situation of the islands’ Council with it’s wide remit covering everything from water and the airport to social care.
And she was worried that raising councillor allowances would encourage someone on a low income to become a “professional politician.”
Cllr Richard McCarthy didn’t want to accept the report at all. He felt it was “divisive” and would “set island against island.”
He said the Boundary Commission was “a quango” and “why should they tell us how to represent our five very different communities?”
Richard felt the proposals were “a sledgehammer to crack a non-existent nut” although Cllr Gaz O’Neill disagreed, saying, “it’s not up to us – they are holding their sledgehammer over our nut.”
On further pressing, Richard Burraston said he hadn’t received any official notification from the Commission that they were planning to review electoral arrangements in Scilly, but that he had instigated a phone call with them to discuss the matter.
And Council Chairman Amanda Martin said Mr Burraston had done that on her request, “in light of what’s happening in Cornwall.”
Cllr Colin Daly warned against this. He said they should “let sleeping dogs lie” adding that the 80% turnout at the last election shows that people were “very engaged with the Council.”
But councillors agreed that they needed to consult with the community before any decisions or recommendations could be made.
They decided to defer any further discussions until the December Full Council meeting.