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Agenda item

Initial Proposals for new Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries in the South West Region

To consider what, if any, representation the Committee may wish to make on the Boundary Commission’s proposals for new Parliamentary constituencies in the Gloucestershire and Wiltshire sub-region.

Subject To Call In::No - Decision taken as urgent as defined in Scrutiny Rule of Procedure 15.1 because there would be insufficient time for the completion of the call-in process before the consultation deadline.

Decision:

That the Council’s response to the Boundary Commission’s proposals for the new Parliamentary constituencies in the Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Sub-Region be delegated to the Borough Solicitor based on the comments in Paragraph 5.1 of the report and the additional views expressed by the Committee.  

Minutes:

24.1          The report of the Head of Democratic Services, circulated at Pages No. 168-179, advised Members of the Boundary Commission’s initial proposals for new Parliamentary constituencies in the Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Sub-Region. The Committee was asked to consider what, if any, representation it may wish to make on the proposals.

24.2          The Borough Solicitor explained that the Boundary Commission for England was currently conducting a review of Parliamentary constituency boundaries on the basis of the rules most recently updated by Parliament in 2020. Those rules required that constituencies must have no fewer than 69,724 electors and no more than 77,062; however, the Commission may also take into account any special geographical considerations including, in particular, the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency; local government boundaries which existed, or were prospective on 1 December 2020; boundaries of existing constituencies; any local ties which would be broken by changes in constituencies; and the inconveniences associated with such changes. The consultation on the changes was being undertaken over a period of eight weeks until 2 August 2021, the Commission was then required to publish all the responses received on the initial proposals which then marked the start of a six-week secondary consultation period planned to take place in early 2022. There would also be public hearings in each region where representations could be made directly to an Assistant Commissioner. The representations from each consultation period would be analysed and the Commission would decide whether changes should be made to the initial proposals. The final report would be submitted to the Speaker of the House of Commons by 1 July 2023. Gloucestershire’s electorate of 483,442 resulted in a mathematical entitlement of 6.59 constituencies which was too large for six whole constituencies and too small for seven; the Commission therefore proposed a pairing with Wiltshire to create a sub-region.

24.3          Members were advised that the existing Tewkesbury constituency was above the permitted electorate range and the Commission’s proposal for changes to the Cheltenham and Gloucester constituencies would further increase the electorate size for Tewkesbury by including one more Ward from Cheltenham and two additional Wards from Gloucester City. To bring the Tewkesbury constituency within the permitted electorate range, the Commission proposed the transfer of seven Tewkesbury Borough Wards from the existing Tewkesbury constituency, including: Winchcombe, Isbourne, Badgeworth, Brockworth East, Brockworth West, Churchdown Brookfield with Hucclecote and Shurdington to form the proposed Cotswolds constituency.

24.4          There were some thoughts from an Officer perspective contained within the report which Members could use to help frame the Council’s response should they so wish, essentially, there were concerns about the complexity of the proposed Tewkesbury constituency in terms of administration which was also very confusing for the electorate to understand in terms of the reasons they were receiving voting paperwork from local authorities which they did not fall under for day-to-day services and the payment of Council Tax. It was also difficult to see how the proposals fit with the Council’s growth agenda and would result in the Borough being represented by three different MPs. It was felt clear that the overriding factor from the government perspective was the size of the electorate as, in terms of connectivity and community identity, it was difficult to see any affinity between areas like Brockworth to the Cotswolds and areas such as Springbank to Tewkesbury.

24.5          During the discussion which ensued, a Member expressed the view that it was important for the Council to submit its views given the consequences for it as an authority. It had a duty to provide services for ordinary people and he felt simplicity was best in that regard and confusion was inevitable when boundaries were moved around, especially given the situation was already reasonably complex. He advised that the areas where Tewkesbury was negatively impacted were in terms of the management of elections, as mentioned in the report, as people were confused about why Tewkesbury Borough Council was contacting them when it was not their usual authority; Tewkesbury Borough’s ability as a district to communicate effectively with government as it already had two MPs and the proposals added an additional MP; and the fact that it was a bureaucratic exercise in equalising all numbers in the different constituencies when ordinary people in their communities and where they related to should be the overriding consideration. In a few years there would need to be another equalisation of numbers due to the amount of growth planned for the Borough and the Member felt there should be an acknowledgement that Cheltenham and Gloucester needed to be larger than other areas to stop the situation of passing different areas around within different boundaries.

24.6          Another Member agreed that common boundaries made the system much easier and the numbers game being played was not helpful to residents. He felt it would be no good to make changes to maps as every action would have a reaction so he agreed with the comments made in the report and those made by Members and felt they should form the Council’s response. A Member agreed with that and also suggested that the proposed changes to constituencies could lead to voters being less engaged because they did not see how their area linked to their constituency i.e. Ashchurch in the Cotswolds constituency. Another Member advised that she could not understand how areas could be split between constituencies in the way suggested in Churchdown as that would cause an exceptionally complicated situation for residents.

24.7          Accordingly, it was proposed, seconded and

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