Tories want to reduce the number of councillors on Kirklees Council – and Liberal Democrats want to increase them – as public consultation is launched into a shake-up of ward boundaries.
The Boundary Commission is currently reviewing how Kirklees is split into local wards and may move some boundaries.
There are currently 23 wards with three councillors in each, making 69 councillors in total. The Boundary Commission has said there should be no change in the number of councillors but may move ward boundaries to ensure a more even split of residents.
Political parties and the public have the chance to make their views known between now and December 4 when the consultation period ends.
The Tories want to reduce costs by losing six councillors but the Lib Dems want three MORE while, at the same time, cutting allowances paid to all councillors so there would be no overall increase in costs.
The Tory group believes the 23 wards could become 21, which would mean the loss of six councillors.
The Conservatives say since the pandemic the way the public contacts councillors has changed with more casework dealt with via e-mails or digital meetings.
As a result, the Conservatives say there is an opportunity to cut costs by reducing the number of councillors from 69 to 63.
At September’s full council meeting, council leader Clr Cathy Scott (Lab, Dewsbury East) asked all councillors to voluntarily agree to a 5% cut in their £15,080 basic allowance in a bid to reduce the £1.3 million a year paid to councillors.
The Tory group voted against amid a furious row over whether those who refused would be “named and shamed.” Read more about that HERE.
A Tory spokesman said: “The group believes it is possible to re-ward with 21 wards and keep communities together without splitting polling districts.
“The average ward electorate, although high in comparison with most metropolitan councils, would still be substantially below that of our neighbour Leeds City Council.
“Our proposals would make the average ward electorate for a 21-ward council nearer the size of the largest wards currently – Lindley, Mirfield or Holme Valley South. The ward councillors in these areas carry out their work well, and do not struggle to deal with the size of their electorate.
“The real benefit would be a commensurate saving to Kirklees Council on councillor allowances, councillor officer support and the cost of equipping councillors with the necessary IT etc.”
Tory leader Clr David Hall (Liversedge & Gomersal) said: “Given the precarious financial position facing Kirklees Council it is vital that all parties come together to help the Labour-run administration in finding cost saving measures.
“We believe this is a sensible proposal which would provide a significant cost saving to the council without a loss of service to residents. We hope the other Kirklees parties, including the Labour administration, can support this approach.”
The Lib Dems don’t want costs to increase but propose a different way. Lib Dem leader Clr John Lawson (Cleckheaton) said: “The Liberal Democrat Group submitted a proposal that reflected the increasing demands on councillor time. There has been a noticeable uptick in both the number and complexity of enquiries since Covid.
“Public access to councillors is vital in our democracy especially when things don’t go smoothly in individual dealings or when they are needed as advocates for local interests.
“With this in mind we have suggested a slight decrease in the size of wards to better represent the communities in Kirklees.
“This would mean a return to 72 councillors and, while the commission is not about the finances, we would be dead set against the current costs increasing. Put simply, slightly more councillors on smaller allowances.”
Green group leader Clr Andrew Cooper (Newsome) said: “I believe that the Kirklees Conservatives proposed reducing the number of councillors by six members to distract public attention from the fact that they opposed the reduction in councillors’ allowances proposed at the last full council meeting.
“This was supported by all other groups on the council to help contribute towards the financial difficulties the Labour administration have found themselves in.
“Their proposal to the Government’s Boundary Commission was always going to be a non-starter and they knew it.
“The population and the demands on councillors have risen over the last few years. The Boundary Commission has to justify reducing the number of councillors and they simply didn’t have a logical case to offer.”
The council’s ruling Labour group has yet to decide on its submission and a spokesperson said: “The Labour group has shown its commitment to putting the public interest first at this challenging time by cutting our own pay at the council, a move the Conservatives voted against.
“We are working on our submission at the moment and will submit it to the commission in due course.”
People can give their views via the Boundary Commission website at https://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/kirklees or email email@example.com or write to: Review Officer (Kirklees), LGBCE, PO Box 133, Blyth, NE24 9FE.