‘No’ To Fewer Councillors But St Martin’s Petition Not Tabled
There’s been talk of scaling back the spaces since the 1980s. There used to be 25 seats until 1985 when the current 21-member system was introduced.
But four seats are currently unfilled and the vacancies have prompted the Council’s Democratic Process Committee to suggest reorganisation, which could be agreed by Parliament in time for the 2017 local election.
In a report written by Legal Officer Richard Burraston and presented at yesterday’s Full Council meeting, it was recommended that councillors should vote to ‘engage’ the Boundary Commission to review Scilly’s electoral arrangements.
But councillors rejected that and voted unanimously to retain the two seats for each off-island and the thirteen representatives for St Mary’s.
Members felt most unhappy about altering off-island representation.
Cllr Colin Daly said there was a feeling that St Mary’s would dominate, although Chairman Amanda Martin pointed out that there was a proposal to reduce the member seats on that island too.
Cllr Christine Savill told the meeting that 53 St Martin’s residents had signed a petition lodging a strong objection to any move to halve the off-island representation from two seats to one.
Christine said that she had personally delivered copies of the locals’ letter to the Chief Executive and the Council Chairman and yet there was no reference to the objections in the officer’s report or meeting documentation.
It was an omission that would not impress St Martin’s residents, she said.
Cllr Savill explained that she wouldn’t back anything that led to a reduction in seats because she couldn’t justify that to her electorate.
During the debate, the smaller islands received much support from St Mary’s members.
Cllr James Francis felt the Council’s position, “should be led by the off islands.”
He was worried that if St Mary’s seats were reduced there would be a disparity between the different isles and that off-island representation could end up being altered in proportion by the commission.
And Cllr Gordon Bilsborough, who had previously campaigned for fewer seats, changed his stance and backed Christine Savill and Colin Daly’s calls for no change.
That led Cllr Avril Mumford, who had proposed reducing the St Mary’s seats from 13 to 11, to withdraw her proposal.
Chief Executive Theo Leijser told members the debate was not about numbers. He said it was to decide whether the Council should start discussions with the Boundary Commission or do nothing and just await their response.
There was concern that their findings could just be imposed on Scilly without dialogue.
But Cllr Savill reminded members that the Commission needs to consult with locals and she encouraged them to visit to gauge opinion and hear some strong views.
Christine said that Scilly is, “not the same as mainland authorities, we have water between us” and our authority should, “stand up and be counted.”
Bryher councillor Marian Bennett agreed and reminded the meeting that proposals for a parliamentary seat straddling the Devon and Cornwall border had been defeated.
Cllr Fran Grottick suggested sending a polite letter asking the Commission for a period of grace until the full impact of Cornish devolution on Scilly was revealed.
It appears that decision to increase powers for Cornwall is where this all started.
Back in September, Legal Officer Richard Burraston told members that he hadn’t received any official notification from the Commission that they were planning to review electoral arrangements in Scilly.
He’d instigated a phone call with them on Chairman Amanda Martin’s request, “in light of what’s happening in Cornwall.”
But members eventually decided to reject the recommendations set out in the officers’ report.
They’ve voted not to begin the process for a Boundary Commission review.
Amanda Martin will meet with the Commission in January because they’ve asked for a meeting.
Cllr Richard McCarthy asked whether she’d take the members’ representations, “in her handbag.” Amanda said that was “shocking” and asked for a retraction and she received an apology.
The Chairman will report back to May’s Full Council meeting on what the Commission says.