Source: Scotland – Highland Council
The Leader of The Highland Council, Councillor Margaret Davidson, has written to Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning to raise concerns following the publication of proposals by the Local Government Boundary Commission and to call for a meeting to fully discuss the issue.
The Council established a Cross Council Working Group of members to consider these proposals. This group strongly felt that the changes proposed by the Boundary Commission fail to recognise the specific Highland context, particularly in relation to parity, sparsity, rurality and deprivation and, if implemented, would result in a significant democratic deficit and in a way that is at odds with the purpose of the boundary review which was meant to be specifically focused on reflecting the requirements of the Islands (Scotland) Act.
In particular the Council wishes to see a lift of the cap on total Councillor numbers and the provision of greater discretion in the application of parity ratios. At a Council meeting held in September to discuss the issue this view was endorsed across the Chamber and it was agreed that the council reject the Boundary Commission proposals in their entirety as they stand and instead contact the Minister to seek a review of the Commissions remit in regard to rural local authorities.
Councillor Margaret Davidson said: “I have written informing the Minister of the position of the Council which is that we did not accept that the number of Highland councillors should reduce at all and indeed, in some wards there was a very strong case to increase the numbers. We don’t feel that enough consideration has been given to the requirements we have here in Highland as a very large Local Authority with a significant geographical area that has a mixture of urban, rural and island wards.”
The letter explains that, as things currently stand, there was no way that the Highland Council could engage in the detail of the Commission’s proposals when the overall approach and outcome of the Review is wrong in principle.
The Council Leader added: “The Council’s view is that the Boundary Commission has taken little account of the effect on remote and rural areas when putting forward their proposals so it important we are able to put forward a strong case to reject proposals and the methodology used and lobby Scottish Ministers to increase the number of Councillors for Highland. It is vital that the geography, remoteness, travel time and spread of population within an area and the importance we give to localism is fully taken into account by the Boundary Commission.
“I have asked for an early meeting with the Minister so we can discuss this matter in detail and I hope this happens soon.”