Writing in her regular column for the Gloucestershire Echo Cheltenham councillor Barbara Driver calls for a radical overhaul of the local authority structure:
LIKE other councils, Cheltenham Borough Council has to watch how it spends tax payer's money while working more efficiently.
This is happening in Cheltenham which is becoming a commissioning council and slimming down departments, which unfortunately has resulted in redundancies over the last couple of years. More work with other councils is being planned, which will help in the long term.
While we are looking at making the council more efficient, and working within a budget, there is one area that needs urgent attention and that is the number of councillors. When the local council did everything themselves this number of councillors was needed, indeed they used to be even more just a few years ago but things were run differently then. At the moment we have two councillors representing each ward making a total of 40 but because of the new way of working there is less and less for them to do.
If the number of councillors was cut in half resulting in one councillor for each ward the savings would be in the region of £100,000 each year. There could be another saving of roughly another £100,000 by reducing the number in the cabinet by one or two. Added to this if elections were every four years rather than every two which the majority of councils do, there could be a saving of up to half a million pound over a four-year cycle. The result could be protecting services, make others more efficient or we might even be able to cut the council tax up to one per cent.
Some of the work of a councillor is to represent their constituents at events and attend functions at in the Municipal Offices as well as formal meetings. Many times now there are less than half elected members attending, but all get the same yearly payment. Meetings are held in the late afternoon or evening to accommodate those working during the day. The public would not notice any difference with 20 instead of 40 as everyone would still be represented by a councillor in their ward.
A unitary authority is often mentioned, but I feel residents need a council for their everyday needs. While councillors are reshaping the council, they have a responsibility to reshape their numbers and way of working.