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Councillors to debate rejection of Boundary Commission's proposed electoral changes for 2022

8th September 2020

Photograph of Councillors to debate rejection of Boundary Commission's proposed electoral changes for 2022

Highland Council members will debate rejecting electoral arrangement proposals put forward by the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland at a meeting of The Highland Council later this week.

The Boundary Commission wrote to the Council's Chief Executive earlier this year with proposals for new electoral boundaries from 2022.

Highland Council is being consulted for two months, ending on 30 September, before the Commission launches a public consultation.

Instead, Members at this week's meeting of Highland Council will be invited to agree to approach the Boundary Commission and ask them to change their recommendations to a model which "more appropriately reflects the requirements of a large local authority that has a mix of urban, rural and island wards."

Councillors will also be asked to agree to approach the Scottish Government with a view to review the remit of the Boundary Commission in regard to local authorities to lift the cap on total councillor numbers and provide for greater discretion in the application of parity ratios especially in remote rural areas.

A report to committee outlines that the recommendations adversely affect rural areas, in particular Caithness, Sutherland, Wester Ross and Eilean a' Cheò, which would all see a reduction in Member numbers. The proposals overall showed a reduction from 74 to 72 Members and would be in place as of the May 2022 full Council election.

Leader of the Highland Council, Cllr Margaret Davidson, said: "A reduction in councillors would have a significant and detrimental impact on rural communities. Democratic representation will be starkly affected. Councillors would be required to cover even larger geographic areas with no reduction in the number of community councils, schools or community groups, all of which require engagement with their local councillor".

She added: “Members will be asked to agree that the Council goes back to the Commission and ask them to reconsider. If Members approve, we will also make representation to the Scottish Government, asking them to outline the remit of the Commission.”

Highland Council was last reviewed in 2015 and reported in 2016 during the 5th Review of Electoral Arrangements. A further review is now required under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018. This Act recognises the importance of the Scottish Islands and the opportunities and challenges they face.

The second period of consultation is due to be completed by the end of December this year and the Boundary Commission aim to report their final proposals to Scottish Ministers by May next year. If approved the new boundaries and member representation will be used for the next full Council elections in May 2022.

A Cross Party Working Group was set up in July to consider the response to the proposals, a number of meetings were held, and this report reflects the group’s conclusions.

Cllr Davidson added: “The Cross-Party Group has taken a very strong position on this. We believe the changes proposed by the Boundary Commission fail to recognise the specific Highland context, particularly in relation to parity, sparsity, rurality and deprivation. For example, the parity for electors in the Islands is 1 to 800. In Highland the standard of 1 to 2800 is being used. This is outrageous.”

“If implemented these changes would result in significant democratic deficit and in a way that is at odds with the purpose of the boundary review, which was meant to be specifically focused on reflecting the requirements of the Islands (Scotland) Act.”

 

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