Borough chiefs submit proposals to cut six council seats

A “LEANER, meaner council” is how the Conservatives view the future of the civic offices after Woking’s leaders proposed a reduction of six chamber seats.

Lib Dem resistance over a report to the Local Government Boundaries Commission that proposes Woking Borough Council cut their numbers by a sixth, fell short last Thursday.

Woking party leader Ann-Marie Barker had wanted the council − currently made up of 36 elected officials − to only lose three bodies in the downsize.

But plans to reduce the number of councillors to 30 have now been submitted to the commission for review.

Under commission regulat-ions, the number of councillors must always be divisible by three, nullifying hopes of a compromise.

Since the last boundary review in 2000, the council have streamlined their business, cut staff and provided residents with access to self-service via emails.

Council chiefs say they aim to save between £60,000 and £100,000 if their reduction is approved.

The 2016 May elections has been earmarked as the date for any changes to be introduced.

Leader of the council, John Kingsbury, believes less can mean more for Woking.

He said: “We need to think about where we are going. In 1999 we had 700 members of staff, today it’s around 330. But what hasn’t changed is the amount of councillors, yet this council is doing more.

“I think Woking residents will see an 18 per cent reduction in the number of councillors and applaud it. Why don’t we make the leap?

“We are already commun-icating with residents by twitter and other social mediums. With effort we can make the reduction work.”

But Cllr Barker was left frustrated by the decision and said that procedure could be compromised by the shake-up.

She said: “Going down to 30 members is too big of a reduction. How do we provide effective scrutiny with just two or three people on committees?

“The workload for councillors is increasing. The executive could be reduced but not the amount councillors.

“The number of complaints has gone up due to emails, which actually creates more work for councillors.

“I don’t think this is a political issue, it is a matter of representation. We need to make savings but let’s look elsewhere.”

Kingfield and Westfield ward councillor, Will Forster, added: “To cut the number of councillors will disconnect us from our community.”

He also pointed out that Epsom, the smallest borough in Surrey, currently has 38 councillors. “Three members to one large ward means the minority will not be heard, as the majority will be larger than ever,” he added.

Cllr David Bittlestone, who was in favour of the bigger reduction, said: “I was elected in 1998 when we operated without emails. The world has changed.

“Over the years we have asked officers to cut cost. Woking council are now a much leaner, meaner fighting machine. We are not talking about huge reductions.

“I’m in favour of three councillor wards and elections every three years. One-coun-cillor wards mean you get one vote every three years.

“In a three-councillor ward you get a vote every year, which is much fairer. And those three-councillor wards are not run by one party. We must do more for less.”

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