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Barb's Wire: Time to halve number of councillors in Cheltenham?

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: December 18, 2012

Barbara Driver

Barbara Driver

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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.

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  • Bonkim2003  |  December 19 2012, 12:20AM

    agree eyeopener - are all councillors accessible/responsive to their ward residents and do they really help?

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  • eyeopener  |  December 18 2012, 6:31PM

    All this to save £100,000 a year. Barbra alone cost us £11,921.64 last year. If she is so convinced why doesnt she go? She no doubt assumed that every councillor claimed as much as she has! Anyone who has needed to consult a councillor will have welcomed developments making him/her more available to meet the needs of local residents. If Barbara had her way, demands on councillors time would mean many received only the most perfunctory attention. Democracy costs, we are not yet a banana republic and you get what you pay for.

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  • Bonkim2003  |  December 18 2012, 6:26PM

    Shireresident - most of the common services - Highways, social care, schools, etc are handled by county - also if the councils are commissioning services with contractors common to them, and also joining up internally, why not have one or two unitaries - that will consolidate the shared contractor arrangements and reduce councillors - ore importantly integrate the county and district components in major services such as waste collection/disposal/treatment which now is a dog's breakfast - no offence to dogs.

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  • AndyPrestbury  |  December 18 2012, 5:52PM

    @Shireresident "Usual ill informed public sector bashing here..." The comments made by Douglasknows was agreeing with Barbara that over recent years councils have been inflated with additional councillors. Even this councillor is agreeing that this many are not needed to do the task they are required to do, and the funds would be better spent in other areas of the public sector. So no public sector bashing but just a view that the priorities were probably wrong, and funds need to go back to where they matter in things like bin emptying.

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  • Dr_Hfrrrrr  |  December 18 2012, 3:13PM

    I see that the mayor of Cheltenham is nominated by other councillors. That's a nice little 'jobs for the boys' system. Although isn't it funny how dear old Babs is so keen to lecture us that the council 'has to watch how it spends tax payer's money the year AFTER she has had £11,921.64 of it....

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  • elgoog  |  December 18 2012, 2:18PM

    This demonstrates how easy it is to make savings without cutting the things that matter but we also need to cut the staff. Too many chiefs and too few indians.

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  • Shireresident  |  December 18 2012, 12:03PM

    Usual ill informed public sector bashing here. I wonder how Douglas will feel when his roads are even more pitted with pot holes and he can't get a care package when he gets sick or has to wait on a waiting list to get on a cataract operation waiting list cos you need to be virtually bling to get it done on the NHS these days. Yes I kid you not the old bad days of waiting lists to get on waiting lists are back folks. The notion that the public sector is worthless is a popular myth propounded by people who have a vested interest in cashing in on the chaos once local government is dismantled. As for employing people to perform public services being some sort of profligacy, fine Douglas, teach your own kids, empty your own bins and perform your own open heart surgery. Good luck mate!

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  • Douglasknows  |  December 18 2012, 11:49AM

    Well done Barbara. Its good to hear from a councillor that agrees with most of the population. Labours idea of employing more and more voters into the council back-fired on them so now is the time for a cull, imo of course.

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  • Shireresident  |  December 18 2012, 10:24AM

    Let's face it most District councils are now being reduced to mere commissioners of services from the ever willing (profit motivated) private sector. As soon as this process is complete costs will start to rise and councillors having sacked their workforce will be powerless to resist. THEN the chickens will come home to roost and they will be exposed as just a bunch of ego tripping lightweights out for the quick sinecure of status and unearned expenses. Only trouble with this scenario is that it will mean the end of real local democracy. So stop being the turkeys who vote for Christmas councillors and fight for the no profit public sector ethos before it's too late.

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  • Scorpio2010  |  December 18 2012, 9:48AM

    I note from the Council's records that Babs claimed £11,921.64 in the year 2011/12 made up of £5,066 members allowance, £396.64 SRA Chair of Council allowance and £6,459 Mayoral Allowance. Members of the Council are not obligated to claim the allowances available to them. Time was when these things were done for free.

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