Ceredigion councillors to be culled

Ceredigion is set to lose at least seven and maybe up to twelve of its 42 councillors at the next local elections in 2012 – that’s likely to be the conclusion of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales when they complete their review into the county’s electoral arrangements in 2011.

This is a long post with a few figures in it so zip up your anoraks and settle down. The Commission, which is reviewing a number of other Welsh county councils at the same time, is conducting its review on the basis that no councillor should represent fewer than 1750 electors, a new, nationally agreed figure. Even though the review uses the projected increased county population for 2014 as its benchmark, only ten of the current council wards achieve that figure, meaning that we are set for wholesale changes in Ceredigion’s political structure.

Dividing the expected 2014 electorate of 62,703 by 1750 leaves 35.8 councillors. But because the review needs to avoid cutting across community boundaries whilst also trying to find rough parity between the different wards , most of the new wards will need to have a significant number of electors over the 1750 figure. Even taking the number of councillors down to thirty, the minimum possible to form a Council, the average number of electors for each ward would be 2090, not considered an unreasonably large number.

In Aberystwyth the likely outcome of the review is that the town will lose one councillor (click on map of current wards to enlarge). We currently have six, down from eight after the last review in 2002, but the figures show we should be entitled to no more than 5.5. There is perhaps a remote possibility that, because of recent housing developments, the commission could decide to expand the boundaries of the town and keep the number of councillors as it is. But the likelihood is that the town’s representation will be cut down to five. In fact most town wards already do, or will, exceed the 1750 figure. The exception is Penparcau which is currently ‘over-represented’ by having two councillors for an electorate of 2277.

If that might seem bad for the representation of Aberystwyth on the Council it’s nothing compared to other parts of Ceredigion. Whilst the population numbers in Aberystwyth might be a bit borderline, the situation in other towns and the rural areas is much clearer. The figures show that Cardigan will be reduced from three to no more than two councillors whilst Lampeter will be reduced from the current two down to one. The sole councillor for Llandysul, Council Leader Keith Evans, currently represents just 1149 people and is likely to see his ward greatly expanded at the expense of one of his rural neighbours. The councillors for Tregaron, New Quay and Aberaeron are all in similar positions where neighbouring rural wards will undoubtedly be lost.

In terms of party politics the effect of the review is hard to predict because the figures show that Plaid Cymru wards and Independent/Lib Dem wards will be impacted more or less equally. The key power change brought about is likely to be geographic. For years people in Aberystwyth have puzzled as to why what is by the far the largest town in the county seems to exert so little influence. The figures show that the more rural south of the county currently wields undue influence for its population.
During a recent presentation, the Boundary Commission were particularly emphatic about one thing. “The idea that rural wards should have fewer electors because of the distance the councillor has to cover is completely undemocratic”, said the Review’s Chair. His emphatic tone indicated that this was an idea that had been seriously suggested to him but rejected.

If the current number of councillors was allowed to continue the average councillor in the north of the county would represent 1636 people whilst their equivalent in the south would represent 1374 – a clear democratic deficit. A starker figure is that, by 2014, of the nine councillors currently representing ‘greater’ Aberystwyth (i.e. the town, Llanbadarn Fawr and Waun Fawr) 55% will fulfil the 1750 mark the reviewers are looking for. In the rest of the county that figure is 14%. Although councillors will be lost everywhere, the review looks set to correct a serious imbalance against the north of the county.

The pending reduction in county councillors will be following a pattern around Wales where reviews of four other councils, using the same criteria, have already begun with more to follow. Older councillors may take the opportunity to retire at the next election, leaving the rest to battle over a diminished number of council seats. Whilst the process may fill councillors with trepidation, many of the electorate will regard cutting their numbers as a jolly good thing, especially since reducing councillors will save money. Next to the public purse, the other winner from the process could be Aberystwyth.