Reduce number of Councillors - Newcastle Liberal Democrats submit their detailed proposals to Boundary Commission

October 11, 2015 2:51 PM

LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOUNDARY COMMISSION REVIEW NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE - COUNCIL SIZE
SUBMISSION BY THE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT GROUP ON THE CITY COUNCIL
SUMMARY
1. The Liberal Democrat Group on Newcastle City Council recommends that the number of city councillors be reduced from 78 to 60, for the following principal reasons:
GOVERNANCE
Twenty members of the Council have no appointment to any main committee by which we reference Cabinet, Overview and Scrutiny, Governance and non-Executive Committees of Constitutional, Audit, Standards, Planning, Licensing, Regulatory and Appeals.

Functions and assets over which councillors previously had influence and input have been moved out of the Council.

Between 2010 and 2015 the number of people employed by the Council has fallen by 32%, gross expenditure by 26% and capital expenditure by 49%, which must impact upon the stewardship responsibilities of members.
SCRUTINY AND OUTSIDE BODIES
41 of the 68 non-Cabinet members have no appointment to a Scrutiny Committee.

Only 3 of the 68 non-Cabinet members have any role on the new Combined Authority, its various committees and sub-committees, its scrutiny committee or the Local Enterprise Partnership.
57 members have no appointment to any of the other Joint Committees on which the Council is represented. Only 11 of the 68 non-cabinet members have any such appointment.
28 members have no appointment to any external body.
Non-Cabinet member involvement in Scrutiny, Joint Committees and Outside Bodies have significantly reduced since the last review of council size.
THE REPRESENTATIONAL ROLE OF COUNCILLORS
Ward Committees now meet only four times a year but many wards have a lower frequency and unfortunately attendances are generally poor.
Some councillors hold only monthly "surgeries"; in total there are 65 scheduled surgeries in a month, so less than one surgery per councillor.
Only 25 of the 78 members have an appointment as a governor of a city school.
The Council's chosen "direction of travel" is for communities and individuals to be more self-sufficient and less reliant on the Council and members.
Members are not expected to act as officers.
No evidence has been presented that members operate in a stronger and more demanding representational role than members in comparator authorities.
We are of the opinion that, because of changes in governance and role that we document below, member knowledge and expertise is not used effectively in the authority. There is no reason to expect this to change.
THE FUTURE
Council budgets and activity will continue to reduce, projected population increase is modest, back bench members have no involvement in the devolution agenda.
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER AUTHORITIES
Newcastle has fewer electors per councillor than all but two of the Cipfa "near neighbours" and fewer electors per councillor of all 36 Metropolitan Districts bar Gateshead, Knowsley and South Tyneside (all three are much smaller). We believe that in this respect Newcastle differs "to a significant extent" from similar authorities.
CONCLUSION
We believe that fewer members are needed than at present to operate the council effectively and conveniently. We believe that this can be done with 60 members in 20 wards.
Please see the commentary below for detailed evidence on each of the above issues.
OUR APPROACH
2. The Liberal Democrat Group on Newcastle City Council has given extensive consideration to the issue of the most appropriate council size to provide "effective and convenient local government" in the city.
3. Our Group has met three times on the subject during the time of the review process in the Council; we have carried out extensive research; and we have shared our views with officers of the Council at various stages of the review.
4. We have also shared our response to the draft council report to Constitutional Committee with all members of the Committee. Additionally, we shared this response with all other members of the City Council, ahead of the Constitutional Committee meetings of 25 September and 6 October which resolved to agree the council response. We did this in the interests of transparency and so that our views could be properly considered as they had not been reflected in the submission drafted by officers. It was the meeting of 25 September that took a vote on the council size number - the paper submitted by officers to that meeting contained reference to the views of other political parties but not of the Liberal Democrats, despite the fact that officers were fully aware that our views were not the same as those drafting the report - which we assume to have been guided by the preference of the majority party.
5. We had asked that we might have sight of the revised draft before submission to the Committee on 25 September, but this did not happen.
6. We have not had sight of the views (and supporting evidence) of the majority party on the council; we offered to meet the majority party ahead of Constitutional Committee to discuss where our approaches and responses differed but this offer was not taken up.
7. We therefore submit this response of our own to the Boundary Commission.
8. We ask the Commission to note that the Liberal Democrats were in control of the council from 2004 until 2011 and therefore were responsible for implementing the council size recommendation and the ward boundaries from the previous review. Our knowledge of how this was done is therefore comprehensive.
9. We also ask the Commission to note that for the past two years we have expressed at City Council our view that the question of the number of councillors be revisited at an appropriate time, both for reasons of economy, but also to reflect the changes in governance and the role of councillors that we now document in full as the evidence part of this submission. When we last raised this as a City Council motion (asking Cabinet to carry out a review and - if thought appropriate - raise with the Commission) it was suggested that we were doing this for political advantage. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, as the greater number of the wards with higher-than-average electorates are represented by the majority party, then if anything the opposite is true.
10. We therefore believe that our position has been both consistent and transparent, as well as being better supported by the evidence than the case presented on behalf of the Constitutional Committee of the Council. We are of the view that from the outset the Council report has been drafted so as to support the status quo and did not consider substantial evidence to the contrary. We were therefore unable to support the resolution to continue with 78 members.
11. Underlying much of difference of approach and opinion is a key point of principle about the review. Officers informed Constitutional Committee on 25 September (we quote from the minutes) that the review is intended as a "snapshot" , and "about the here and now" - and that there was "no requirement …. to look back at previous reviews", just a description of how things are now plus a forward look at anticipated changes to governance, electorate etc. Much of the detailed evidence that we had presented for some reduction in Council size was dismissed on the grounds that it related to changes in governance and the role of members since the last review.
12. Not as the sole factor, but certainly a relevant factor in the review, it seemed to us that there had to be some kind of benchmark to the assessment of what would represent the right size of council to perform its functions effectively and conveniently - and that benchmark should logically be the current size of council and what changes had taken place since the current total of 78 members was last established.
13. The Commission's "Questions and Prompts" guidance clearly refer to "trends in the workload" whether (the commitments of elected members) "are increasing or decreasing"; "has the role of councillors changed since the council last considered how many elected members it should have?"; "what has been the impact of recent financial constraints on the council's activities - would a reduction in the scope and/or scale of council business warrant a reduction in the number of councillors?".
14. We also understand that other reviewed Councils have covered changes of recent years in structure and in the role/function of members in their submissions.
15. We sought further guidance from the Commission and were advised "Commissioners, when considering Council Size proposals, are encouraged when evidence for a particular council size argument shows that account has been taken both of what may have changed since the last council size decision was made and of changes that may be expected in the future."
16. We therefore believe that the Council's Evidence report is inadequate and incomplete. Hence the changes since the last review feature significantly in our submission, and in particular changes since 2010/11 when control of the council changed, many governance changes were introduced by the new administration, and the impact of significant reductions in Government funding has been felt in how the council is run and what it does.
EVIDENCE ON GOVERNANCE AND DECISION-MAKING
CITY COUNCIL
17. City Council meetings have just been reduced to 8 times per annum from 10. This means that there is a three month gap between June and September, and that November is the only meeting in the rest of the calendar year. It is debateable whether this curtailing of accountability and democratic debate is wise, especially when so much is happening around budget cuts, devolution and council transformation. It diminishes the accountability of both the Executive and of members. It also reduces the opportunities for members (and the public) to ask questions and present petitions, and reduces the opportunity for members to present motions for debate. The agendas of the remaining meetings will inevitably become longer, but the majority party's regular use of the guillotine not only stops the meetings becoming longer than two and a half hours but regularly means that the motions of members (the final item on the agenda) are not debated. The ability of the public to have issues raised directly by themselves or by their elected representatives is therefore diminished.
CABINET
18. Prior to 2010/11 there was an Executive (Cabinet) of nine members, meeting monthly. Cabinet operated with three sub-committees - with nominated Opposition observers:
Housing, Planning and Transport (HP&T) Committee
Neighbourhood Committee
Procurement Committee
19. The main function of HP&T and Neighbourhood sub-committees was to provide a forum for more in-depth discussion and debate of proposals for policy changes, prior to decision. The HP&T and Neighbourhood sub-committees were both abolished in 2011, and Procurement Committee in 2014. Full Cabinet takes whatever decisions are needed in these areas of business. We have tested the evidence and conclude that Cabinet meetings to deal with the business of the Council are no more frequent, nor do they last longer, than in 2010/11 or before, despite suggestions to the contrary.
20. There is therefore less debate and arguably less transparency on issues that were previously considered ahead of full Cabinet by HP&T/Neighbourhood Committees or (as also in the case of Procurement also) delegated to them.
21. Cabinet also operates via a number of informal committees/working groups. Meetings are not open to the opposition or public as observers and there are no papers or minutes made publicly available.
22. One significant change was the introduction of delegated decisions to Cabinet Members in 2011 instead of taking the decisions publicly at Cabinet. In our opinion the outcomes have been:
Lack of transparency
Lack of accountability/challenge
Many reports are of much poorer quality than if they had to be presented publicly to Cabinet.
23. Most of the decisions that are "called in" for review by Scrutiny (albeit that there are not many, only three last year) arise from delegated decisions.
24. Policy Cabinet is a separate concept introduced in 2011 and attended by some Cabinet Members, depending on the nature of the topic, but these have reduced significantly in frequency of late.
OTHER GOVERNANCE COMMITTEES
25. Comparing 2010/11 (and before) with 2015/16:
Constitutional Committee remains with a membership of 13
Planning Committee (previously known as Development Control Committee) had a membership of 16 in 2010/11 and for 2015/16 has a membership of two fewer, at 14.
Licensing Committee had a membership of 15 in 2010/11 and for 2015/16 has a membership of one fewer, at 14.
Adding together Regulatory Committee and the various appeal panels in 2010/11 there was a combined panel of 33 members to draw from. There is now just a single Regulatory and Appeals Committee with a membership of 14 members. All appeals are heard by sub-committees drawn from the same 14 members (any three). So far fewer members are now involved in any way in this essential process.
Standards Committee remains with a membership of 6
OTHER COMMITTEES
26. The following advisory committees that were in place prior to and including 2010/11 were removed in 2011/12
Equalities Committee
Workforce Learning and Development
Science City
Conservation
Great Park
These committees all had significant backbench membership (both parties), alongside Cabinet Members.
CHANGES IN COUNCIL RESPONSIBILITIES
27. From 2004, responsibility for management of the housing stock transferred to Your Homes Newcastle, an ALMO (arm's length management organisation).
28. From 2013 responsibility for the Public Health returned to the Council. It is overseen by the (statutory) Wellbeing for Life Board. The Board's council membership comprises all Cabinet Members except for one Opposition member. There is no reporting line from the Board to the City Council or Cabinet, despite the Board being technically a committee of the Council. There is an annual report from the Director of Public Health to the City Council but the recommendations in his report have no formal status, as was recently confirmed by him at City Council.
29. A number of functions and assets have been removed from the council and any influence that members might have over them. These include:
Tourism services are now the responsibility of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative. The city no longer has a tourist information centre, which for a regional capital and one of the most popular short-break destinations in the country is seen as a retrograde step by many people.
Most sports facilities have either been closed or have been transferred (or are in process of being transferred) to private leisure trusts.
Most of the city's cultural funding has been ended. An external fund has been established through the Community Foundation for Tyne and Wear and Northumberland but council members receive no information about this and have no say on what is funded. The independent chair of Standards Committee made critical reference to this lack of information recently.
The Council is midway through a significant process of transfer of community and operational assets.
GOVERNANCE - COMMENTS AND CONCLUSIONS
30. From the data provided above it will be seen that there is now a materially reduced role for backbench councillors: over 20 members are not appointed to ANY main committee - Cabinet, nor any Overview and Scrutiny Committee nor Non-Executive (Constitutional, Standards, Planning, Licensing, Regulatory);
This is not due to budget cuts but the choice of the majority party in how it wishes to run the Council.
The skills, knowledge and experience of members are not being properly used.

COMMENTS ON SCRUTINY AND PARTNERSHIPS
OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY
Background
31. There are significantly fewer members involved in Scrutiny now than five years ago.
32. References in the evidence report to Scrutiny being "revitalised" are entirely subjective and not proven. We disagree.
33. The Chairs of Overview and Scrutiny Committees were given to Opposition in 2004, and this continues. This gives some formal role for the Opposition in Council affairs, although (as required by legislation) scrutiny membership is proportionate to overall Council membership.

34. This paragraph compares the number of Scrutiny committees and the councillors on those committees for the years 2010/11 and 2015/16

From 2004 until 2010/11 there were eight Overview and Scrutiny Committees of the Council, one of which was the Overview and Scrutiny Board that managed the overall process. Of the 78 members of the City Council, 9 were Executive (Cabinet) members; of the other 69 members, 66 of them had places on one (or in a handful of cases more than one) scrutiny committee.
In 2015/16 there are only two Overview and Scrutiny Committees on which 27 of the 68 non-Cabinet members sit.
The fact that there is currently a facility to establish task and finish groups is not relevant, as this has existed (and been used) in past years when there were more main committees. In practice, the response from members to serve on task and finish groups is rather disappointing, and the membership tends mostly to come from the main committee(s). There have been only three scrutiny task and finish groups in the past year.
35. One of the key functions of Scrutiny is to review the performance of cabinet members and directorates. Reports by Cabinet Members to Scrutiny (and then on to City Council) used to be every six months but this was changed in 2011 to an annual report. Many members think that this is inadequate because information becomes out-of-date. Despite requests by Scrutiny, most cabinet reports are simply a list of actions and achievements (albeit of interest), not demonstrably linked to the aims in the annual plan and usually avoiding controversial and difficult issues.
36. Cabinet members do not keep to a recommended pattern for the submission of their reports; one consequence is that sometimes Scrutiny has to take more than one Cabinet Member report at a meeting; this is not satisfactory. With the reduction in the number of City Council meetings from this year, City Council will also end up taking more than one Cabinet Member report at a meeting. In fact the September 2015 City Council meeting had to take no less than three cabinet member reports at one meeting:
Leader of Council
Deputy Leader
Cabinet Secretary (also for his previous remit)
37. The consequence of this on many occasions is that neither non-Cabinet members on Scrutiny nor members at City Council meeting have available to them sufficient time to adequately scrutinise/question/challenge Cabinet Members.
38. The other main aspect of performance monitoring is the quarterly performance report which comes to Scrutiny after Cabinet approves it. The appropriateness of the content of this report has been a bone of contention for a very long time. Members of both parties on Scrutiny have been frustrated by information that they sometimes consider to be out-of-date, with inappropriate comparators and insufficient trend information to be useful. All of this could have been avoided if Scrutiny had been involved in the identification of key performance data and its presentation in the first place, instead of an informal Cabinet working party taking the decisions without reference to Scrutiny.
39. There are other examples of Cabinet decisions which we believe ought to be available for pre-decision scrutiny but are not (there is virtually no pre-decision scrutiny in Newcastle City Council)
Example - City Council, following a thorough budget scrutiny process, approved the capital budget at its March 2015 meeting. This included £18m over three years for refurbishment to the Civic Centre. Less than four months later and out-of-the-blue it was announced that this would now be £45m. Scrutiny was not consulted before this decision, despite having formal responsibility for monitoring treasury management.
NORTH EAST COMBINED AUTHORITY
40. Much is made in the evidence report of the time needed to develop and implement the governance arrangements for the new North East Combined Authority. However the key point in relation to Council size is that a very small number of members are in any way involved with this. Ignoring substitutes, taking the Combined Authority Board, its various committees and sub-committees and the Local Enterprise partnership (LEP) together, only the Leader and Deputy Leader and two majority party backbenchers have any role in the governance structure. The Leader of the Opposition is one of two representatives on the Combined Authority Scrutiny Committee.
41. The same is true of Core Cities. There is never any report to Council or Scrutiny about the work of this group.
OTHER JOINT AUTHORITY COMMITTEES
42. The eleven other joint committees are also heavily populated by Cabinet members. In aggregate there are places for only 7 of the majority party's 43 backbench members and only 4 of the 25 opposition members. By contrast, in the municipal year 2010/11 there were 14 comparable joint committees, and the following were involved as members:
Cabinet members - 2 places
Majority party backbenchers - 21 places
Opposition members - 5 places
43. For a number of years the City Council supported and resourced the Local Strategic Partnership which brought together the council with other public bodies (police, health etc), business representatives and the voluntary and community sector to develop shared priorities and approaches across agencies. The LSP was disbanded in 2011. Many neighbouring authorities continue to have such a body.
44. We understand that the City Council, through its management, meet with other public agencies in some informal arrangement but this is partial and without any transparency - there are no papers or minutes available for members to scrutinise and challenge.
45. Other agencies also disbanded since 2010 include:
The Tyne and Wear Economic Development Company
Newcastle/Gateshead's city centre development company 1NG
REPRESENTATIVES ON EXTERNAL BODIES
46. In 2010/11 Council appointed representatives to 115 different external organisations and committees, a figure which had changed little over the previous decade. On these 115 organisations there were 207 places for elected members. These were filled by 62 different members (36 of the 42 members of the controlling group; 26 of the 36 Opposition members)
47. It was decided in 2011 to cut back on external appointments. For 2015/16 only 112 representatives are appointed to 61 organisations. The pattern of appointments is as follows:
95 of the 112 places were to majority party members and 17 to the main Opposition party.
Of the 95 majority party places 39 were occupied by Cabinet members and 56 by non-Cabinet members.
The 56 places occupied by non-Cabinet members were filled by 23 different members; in other words 21 of the 44 non-Cabinet majority party councillors have no position on an external body.
The 17 places occupied by Opposition party members were filled by 11 different members; so 11 of the 25 non-Labour members of the City Council have no position on an external body.
Our own figures from the councillors' website CVs indicate that 32 members (NB the Evidence report figure records 28 members) have NO appointments of any sort to external bodies.
COMMENTS ON REPRESENTATIONAL ROLE OF COUNCILLORS
48. Members make up the voting members of their Ward Committee. The Liberal Democrat administration from 2004 removed the former Area Committees, as a two-tier localised structure was not justified. Members no longer had to sit on both ward committees and area committees. Ward Committee budgets were increased as was staff support via Ward Coordinators and Neighbourhood Response Managers.
49. Naturally much of this has had to be cut back as part of council budget reductions, but it is to the credit of the City Council that it has maintained significant Ward budgets for the Ward Committees when they were already way above what most other local authorities made available. The City Council Evidence report contains the detail.
50. The Ward Committee infrastructure has changed in the last two years. Most Ward Committees used to meet every two months, but some met monthly. Now they meet - at best - quarterly (with a change of name to "Get-Togethers") so the engagement with residents is much-reduced via this route. Several wards have chosen just to have three meetings in the year. Officers advise us that attendances per meeting are reduced on previous years. As examples, taking Westgate (the Council Leader's ward) there have been three meetings in the past year, with recorded public attendances in the past two meetings as 3 and 11. Wingrove Ward Committee (Deputy Leader's ward) also met only three times in the past year; the recorded public attendance in the past two meetings was 15 and 26. Castle Ward (the Opposition Leader's Ward) met four times, with the last two recorded public attendances being 9 and 8. With fewer meetings, more decisions on funding from Ward Committee grant budgets have to be decided outside the meetings, often by email which reduces the opportunities for discussion even between members let alone with public input.
51. Members used to be involved in some consultations with city-wide applicability - usually via Ward Committees, but all consultation is now centrally managed through "Let's Talk", with next to no member involvement.
52. The previous administration had introduced a highly consultative approach to local prioritisation called "neighbourhood charters" which many wards had taken up or were in process of doing so. However the incoming administration in 2011 immediately abandoned this approach. Frankly, it is so much easier on members' time for them to decide on local priorities and allocate their ward funds accordingly rather than engage in an ongoing consultative approach and being held accountable for publicly-set priorities.
53. Elected members used to have the determining say on significant budgets for local road and pavement improvements (advised by officers as to condition) - up to £200,000 per ward in one year, and still £100,000 per ward in 2013/14. This often involved members in extensive consultation with local residents and resident groups. All of this has ended - see Cllr Stone's motion to the September 2015 meeting of City Council for more detail of what has become a source of much frustration to all members. In 2014/15 there was no budget at all for locally-determined road and pavement improvements.
54. Members also used to meet regularly (in many cases monthly) with police and local housing and community safety staff in SNAPS meetings. This stands for "Safe Newcastle Action and Problem Solving" and was a response to public concern about anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood policing becoming a priority for the police. These meetings have also been much reduced in frequency, in some cases to quarterly.
55. Note that the significant and regrettable (but understandable) reduction of Council staff has resulted in a poorer standard of support, service and response to members. One consequence is that members spend more time chasing answers and assistance from officers than in previous times. It is a source of much frustration for members and reduces the satisfaction that being an elected representative brings. Formerly mainstream budget-funded jobs increasingly have to be funded through the (declining) Ward Committee budget.
56. Even when jobs are agreed/funded, the time taken for implementation is often very extended and causes much exasperation.
57. Newcastle residents with complaints/requests about neighbourhood issues are expected and encouraged to contact Envirocall (one-stop call system).
58. Neighbourhood Managers, who used to help members to get decisions and action, now operate on a wide-zone, multi-ward basis and are changed very regularly so members barely get to know who to contact.
59. Opposition members generally research, write and physically distribute their own newsletters (quarterly, sometimes more often). The concept of regular newsletters from councillors to their constituents was not common until Liberals Democrats began the practice over 30 years ago. Even now, it seem to us that majority party councillors often piggy-back their (more limited) local copy onto the local MP's funded constituency newsletter, and they are generally distributed via paid-for delivery. Note our use of the word "often", as there are exceptions. We have assembled many examples of both types of newsletters as evidence.
60. Workload is probably higher for members who represent areas of higher deprivation but there is no evidence that this has increased materially over recent years. In June 2015 we were provided with information from an officer of the Council about "direct referrals from Ward Councillors to the Welfare Rights Service" - the aggregate total from ALL members in the year 2014/15 was just fifteen.
61. There are 99 schools in Newcastle (excluding private schools). Only 25 of the council's 78 members are school governors (figures as at 22 June 2015). We are advised that the number of councillors who are governors has reduced progressively over the years.
62. There are now more younger councillors who have jobs and have less time available. It is good to have a better age distribution among members, but the turnover rate seems higher than before - one wonders about the reasons? The work isn't interesting, demanding or challenging enough? This could be one factor.
63. There is no longer a designated member training officer. Few members seem to have Personal Development Plans. The report indicates (at para 3.63) that almost 30% of members said they had not received appropriate training to fulfil their role as a councillor. There seems to be much less on offer than before in skills training/development (mainly occasional "information" courses on what officers or cabinet members think other members should be informed about, little around personal skills)
OUR ISSUES WITH THE COUNCIL EVIDENCE REPORT
64. We believe that the report is a largely accurate description of how the council is currently organised and operates but that it draws very many erroneous conclusions without providing evidence.
65. Moreover, the report fails to cover the many ways in which council activity, and the role of councillors, has reduced in recent years.
66. The report therefore reflects a snapshot of council activity and governance but to be of any value to the Boundary Commission review we believe that it needs to be assessed against changes in recent years - we suggest the past five years as this covers both austerity and administration/governance changes.
67. The Report states (1.1) that the Council has "looked at … the expectations of communities" as part of the review, but there was no testing of public opinion of which we are aware, so we do not understand how this observation can be made.
68. Much of the extra work that it is contended that councillors perform relates to the work of the Cabinet and not the Council as a whole, for example the Combined Authority and Core Cities. The Boundary Commission Review is about the role and total number of councillors, not the size of the Cabinet or the way in which it works - although we would contend that there is no evidence to suggest that Cabinet members are busier than in former times.
69. We believe that the significant reduction in the resources available to the council, reflected in much-reduced activity, impacts upon the role of members in overseeing this activity, and the time needed to perform that role.
The number of people employed by the Council (excluding schools, Your Homes Newcastle and the Museums Service) has fallen from 10,031 in 2010 to 6,775 today
Gross revenue expenditure has fallen from £1171m in 2010/11 to £868.7m in 2014/15 (source - annual accounts).
Annual capital budget has fallen from £231m in 2010/11 to £117.6m in 2014/15 (source - annual accounts)
70. There are many statements in the Evidence report about how recent changes have "strengthened democratic oversight", "enhanced the democratic process", etc. These are empty phrases unless evidence is presented to support these opinions, and what effect these changes have had on members and their work. In fact the City Council is arguably much more centralised and less transparent than ever before, and backbench members have been marginalised.
71. Integration of Services. It is difficult to understand how combining functions across councils or other public authorities actually increases the workload for councillors if that is the case that is being made here. This would need to be explained. By illustration, far fewer councillors are involved in functions that were already merged on a Tyne and Wear basis before the current devolution debate, than if each council had run its own policies/budgets/operations/scrutiny - e.g. public transport, museums and galleries.
72. The report seems only to deal only with what is presented as additional workload. There is no reference to the very many major changes that have reduced the workload of the council and members (some for good, some for ill)
The demise of Local Area Agreements, targets etc
The end of the very demanding Audit Commission inspection regime
The abolition of the Regional Development Agency and the significant time taken in liaising/pitching/bidding/partnering for funds available through the RDA. Ditto liaison with the former Government Office for the North East and North East Assembly
The ending of SRB, Neighbourhood Renewal and similar funds, many of which resulted in local project boards that Cabinet members and ward councillors sat on to oversee progress.
The abolition by the Council of its Local Strategic Partnership (unlike most neighbouring councils)
73. The Impact of austerity: It is certainly a challenge, but surely it is just as demanding (if not more so) on the workload of members in times when budgets are increasing, new government funds available, new projects launched and new governance arrangements being put in place? As mentioned above, there was significant member involvement in former area regeneration boards.
74. The changing nature of the city: If the number of new houses predicted in the Local Development Framework come to pass (numbers have already been revised downwards) then there will be some impact on the work of councillors (especially on Planning Committee). The Submission of Evidence suggests it will impact "upon the role of councillors in how they engage with communities in those areas included in the Framework, as well as the workload to develop the plan". This assertion needs evidencing - in what ways will local members be affected in the work they do?
75. We would argue that there was as much, if not more, involvement of, and work for, local members during the large-scale demolitions that have taken place in past years, and especially (and widely across the council) in the refurbishment (estate by estate, separately for structural and internal modernisations) of the 28,000 properties owned by the Council and managed by Your Homes Newcastle.
76. The report makes much of a predicted increase of 11.4% in the electorate by 2021, but the increase in population is expected to be 2.3%. The latter is the relevant figure for members because they perform a representative role for everyone, irrespective of whether they are on the electoral register.
77. We also note that most of the wards with the biggest increases in electorate since 2004 are in "student areas" - in fact the overall increase in the city population/electorate has been significantly influenced by the very large increase in student numbers at the two universities; and part of increase projected into the next decade is in the "student wards". This is relevant to consideration of council size because students are concentrated in a small number of wards, and therefore the great majority of members are unaffected by this change.
78. If the Council is arguing that being a "Cooperative Council" takes up more time of members it needs to describe exactly how this is the case and give some assessment of how much time. Are members sitting on the boards of new cooperative ventures, for example, or any other ongoing involvement? When council services are being cut, ceased altogether or moved outside the Council then, certainly once the process is complete, council(lor) time on these services and influence over them must surely be reduced not increased.
79. Section on Members' Remuneration - we do not understand why this section is included? It is factual but is it trying to say that because some councils pay their members more in allowances that it justifies Newcastle having more councillors? Or that they are somehow better value for council taxpayers' money?
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS
COUNCIL/COUNCILLOR INVOLVEMENT WITH COMMUNITY GROUPS
80. Youth Council activity, now that it is managed by the Council, is more sporadic and one-off than when run by The Childrens Society; member involvement is quite limited.
81. Unlike neighbouring urban areas such as Sunderland and Middlesbrough there is no BME network in place; the Tyne and Wear Racial Equality collapsed a decade ago and was not replaced; the Newcastle City for Peace network organisation lost its council funding and staff support in 2011 and was disbanded.
LINK BETWEEN COUNCIL SIZE AND WARDING PATTERN REVIEWS
82. We appreciate that consideration of ward boundaries follows a decision about council size. However we would wish to point out that there are a large number of natural communities that are currently divided between wards (for example Jesmond, Heaton, Fenham, Gosforth/Coxlodge, Chapel House, Elswick, North Kenton), and there would be a significantly better opportunity of resolving some of these anomalies with fewer wards.
THE "REGIONAL CAPITAL" ARGUMENT
83. In some ways it is perfectly correct to view Newcastle as a regional capital in the sense of being a regional hub for retail, tourism, media, culture, health and higher education, with its associated implications for jobs, transport, economic development, spatial planning and the hospitality sector. However, unlike most other perceived "regional capitals" or sub-regional capitals (Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol etc) the local authority area is not dominant among its neighbours in terms of population or area, or clout (as accepted by its neighbours).
84. What impact does this role have on the work of members? Local authority shared ownership of the airport is led by South Tyneside on behalf of all; all other public transport is the responsibility of the Combined Authority; the Council has closed its tourism information office and (controversially) cut back most of its cultural funding (and credibility); it does not have good relations with the football club; it has poor communications with the business community (as told to scrutiny members in a recent study); senior councillors do not engage pro-actively with NE1, the business improvement company. The two universities have close relations with all neighbouring authorities (Northumbria more with Gateshead than Newcastle) Major development sites have taken a very great deal of time to develop and are therefore slow to come to Planning Committee. We would not necessarily accept that a "regional capital" requires more councillors to run it than another authority of similar size and functions.
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER AUTHORITIES
85. At the briefing by the Boundaries Commission team it was made clear that the Commission will look at how the city council matches up to the median of the CIPFA comparators. Section 4.26 of their Technical Advice document states : "In cases where the authority's proposal would mean its council size differs to a significant extent from similar authorities, we will require particularly strong evidence ……… In a small number of cases, retention of the existing council size will require a strong case to be made before the Commission makes a recommendation on council size".
86. The Council has chosen to define "council size" in terms of absolute numbers rather than a ratio of members to electorate or population. Expressed as the latter, Newcastle already differs "to a significant extent" from these similar authorities. Newcastle has fewer electors per councillor than all but two of the Cipfa "near neighbours" We note that Coventry has 44,000 more electors than Newcastle but 24 FEWER councillors so they have 4179 electors per councillor and Newcastle has 2364. Kirklees and Wakefield also have over 4000. (Source - electorate of local authorities as at 1 December 2014)
87. In fact, extending the comparison beyond just the Cipfa nearest neighbours, Newcastle has the lowest ratio of all 36 metropolitan authorities except for the very small authorities of South Tyneside, Gateshead and Knowsley.

We would be pleased to provide any further information about our submission should the Commission require it.
Councillor David Faulkner, 3 Bloomsbury Court, Gosforth. Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 4LW, tel (office) - 0191 211 6826. david.faulkner@newcastle.gov.uk

9 October 2015