Don't cut our numbers, say Leicester city councillors
Leicester’s councillors say their numbers should not be cut by officials looking to review the size of the council.
The Local Government Boundary Commission for England is to decide whether Leicester City Council has the right number of politicians to properly represent its voters.
Last night, councillors met to discuss what they would tell the commission, and they decided the current number - 54 councillors representing 22 wards - was the right number.
Members of the council’s overview select committee warned that a reduction in councillor numbers would leave the city’s 235,245 eligible voters under-represented.
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An officer’s report had said other councils had voted to reduce numbers to save money.
Leicester City Council’s current budget for councillors’ allowances is set at £1.17 million, with a further £1.28 million for council officials who support them in their roles.
However, committee member and Labour councillor for Castle ward Patrick Kitterick said: “Lopping off four our five councillors will not save the finances of the city.”
He said he was concerned a reduction in numbers would lead to the introduction of “professional” councillors who would not properly represent the city’s diverse communities.
Councillor Kitterick also said the recession would mean more residents needed help, and that they would seek it from councillors.
Liberal Democrat Aylestone councillor Nigel Porter was the only member at the meeting arguing for fewer councillors. He said wards currently with three councillors should have two, and wards currently with two should have just a single representative.
Councillor Porter said he had been told by residents that there was a feeling that councillors were only “in it for themselves”, and that they did not do much for residents and that people had stopped him on the street and questioned the value of having councillors, and said there were too many of them.
Coun Porter said: “It’s well and good listening to our views but it’s the public view that matters.”
He said it suited the city’s Labour Group to have more councillors because they pay three per cent of their allowances to the party.
However Labour members said that contribution was voluntary - though all of the current members paid.
Labour’s Rushey Mead councillor Ross Willmott described Coun Porter’s comments as “absurd” and “spurious”.
He said: “Those arguments that people don’t want or don’t trust councillors - they have always been there and they tend to come from the people who shout the loudest.
“I think there are 10 times as many people who value the services of councillors.”
Committee chairman and Labour Fosse ward councillor Ted Cassidy said: “I am shocked a Liberal Democrat should want less representation.
“It is important we have full representation for the people of Leicester. It’s crazy and so anti-Liberal.”
Labour Castle ward councillor Neil Clayton said: “I find the approach Coun Porter has taken to be very disappointing. Most people are actually very grateful for the help we give.”
Labour Western Park councillor Su Barton said the city already had a “democratic deficit”.
She said: “This is about the people of the city, not about us.
“It’s about having adequate representation.
“I think we are good value for money.”
Labour Fosse ward councillor Sue Waddington told the meeting it was important to have councillors to keep an eye on the city mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby.
She said: “We have to have sufficient councillors to scrutinise decisions that might be taken behind closed doors.”
The councillors voted by 10 to one in favour of telling the commission the city has the correct number of members.
The commission will discuss the council's submission on its size in May. There will then be a series of consultations.
Any changes, if approved, will come into force in May 2015.
Do you think Leicester should have fewer councillors? Take part in our online poll at the top of this page.