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Maidstone councillors vote to reduce their numbers at boundary review

The number of Maidstone borough councillors could soon be slashed with members feeling backed into a corner.

Maidstone Borough Council currently has 55 councillors but this will soon be reviewed by the Local Government Boundary Commission which sets the limit.

Are there too many councillors?
Are there too many councillors?

The council can submit a size recommendation to the commission and after workshops between them, councillors have agreed that a cut to 48 would be preferable.

However, large cuts to council numbers are common when reviewed by the commission and Maidstone councillors fear a bigger cut could be coming.

At the council’s democracy and general purposes committee on Tuesday, councillors discussed if any changes should be made before a final decision is reached at a full council meeting on December 8.

Speaking as a guest, Cllr Paul Harper (Lab) suggested a small reduction would be enough: “I was at the workshop last week, but I would ask you to reconsider 48, I would prefer 54 myself.

“One thing to bear in mind is our population, the local plan envisages around 20,000 new properties.

“If we assume each house has around two voters each, that's an increase of our electorate by 40,000 which is already at 120,000. Our population is going to increase considerably.”

Cllr Paul Harper opposes cut
Cllr Paul Harper opposes cut

While Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem) was sympathetic, he re-iterated that the Commission wouldn’t accept a small cut. He said: "What we have to bear in mind is that the commission has a lot of form in what it does. It has a virtually unparalleled record of wanting reductions in councils and councillors.

“Like many other organisations it doesn’t see the value in elected representatives and sees its mandate to have as few of them as possible.

“We have to recognise there will be a reduction, but we need to come up with a decision that is defendable.

“In my opinion, there's a ‘zip’ chance of getting a reduction of one through, they will say MBC aren’t taking this seriously and are asking for the status quo.

“It’s a bit like a game of poker, you don’t bet everything when you’ve got a pair of twos, and you might get lucky, but these people are unlikely to blink.”

Cllr Clive English: It's like poker
Cllr Clive English: It's like poker

If the council does recommend a cut to 48 councillors on December 8, the Commission will consider it comments in January 2022 before making a final decision.

Although if a recommendation isn’t made, the Commission may impose a size restriction, just without input from the council.

Cllr Margaret Rose (Lab) was more emotive on the issue. She said: “I just feel like we are being shoved into something which we feel we don’t want to do.

"I feel like I’ve got a gun at my head telling me this is what you’re going to do and I don’t like being told that.

“We are responsible for the people that vote for us, we are the face they vote for, they’re not talking about the Commission when they talk to us."

Cllr Margaret Rose strongly opposed to cut
Cllr Margaret Rose strongly opposed to cut

She said: “On top of the workload and meeting expectations, you can tell I feel very passionately that I was elected to do everything that we can for the people that vote for us."

While most councillors were reluctantly supportive of a small reduction, Cllr Paul Cooper (Con) expressed support for a larger cut: “I am somewhat perplexed, ideologically I’m not in favour of a larger number of councillors.

“I think we cost the taxpayer money, I’m not sure a large dilution of views either is always essential.

“If we were to reduce numbers to my preferred choice, 36, perhaps we would have struggled to fill committees, although there may be an argument that is a good thing.

“I have a full-time job and a profession; I chair on a committee and sit on KCC, and I find enough time to represent residents.

Cllr Paul Cooper: 'Almightily busy'
Cllr Paul Cooper: 'Almightily busy'

He said: "I am almightily busy, I accept that, but we have chosen to sit here and we are a privileged few to sit here.”

A vote to move the council's size recommendation to full council next month was passed, with one vote against and two abstentions.

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