Council ward boundaries to be changed across Scotland
Thurso promenade - Image credit: Reinhard Dietrich via Wikimedia Commons
Council ward boundaries are to be changed in 25 of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, following recommendations from the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland.
The boundary commission recommended changes in 30 council areas, but the Scottish Government rejected five of the recommendations.
Scottish Government ministers will not go ahead with recommended changes in Argyll and Bute, Dundee City, Scottish Borders, the Shetland Islands or the Western Isles.
Following consultation, no alterations were proposed by the commission to boundaries or councillor numbers in West Lothian or Orkney.
Public to be consulted on planned changes to council ward boundaries
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The Scottish Government said it could not accept changes to the three island authorities ahead of its forthcoming islands bill later this year, which allows for the creation of smaller one or two person wards.
It also rejected proposals to change the number of councillors in Argyll and Bute, Dundee and the Scottish Borders due to opposition from local communities.
Parliamentary Business Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Local government plays an important role in delivering key services across Scotland and it’s important for the sake of democracy and for local service delivery that councils are as representative as possible of the communities they serve.
“That’s why the Boundary Commission is legally obliged to hold regular reviews of council wards and councillor numbers, to ensure these reflect changes in population – this is the fifth such review since the commission was created in 1973 and we are pleased to accept the vast majority of their recommendations.
“In a small number of cases – Argyll and Bute, Dundee City and Scottish Borders - we have listened to local representations and left boundaries as they currently stand, to ensure that strong historic ties in particular areas and communities are maintained.
“Significant concerns were raised about aspects of the commission’s proposals for those areas, in particular that they would not reflect local communities.
“While the commission did try to address these in its final recommendations, it was clear from the responses to those recommendations that many of those concerns remained.
“We therefore decided that the better course would be to keep the status quo for those areas.
“In the case of the three island councils, we are committed to introducing an islands bill in this first parliamentary year enabling the creation of 1- or 2-member island wards.
“We do not propose to pre-empt the bill by changing ward boundaries in Orkney, Shetland or Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, so we are therefore not implementing any changes in those areas.
“However, we will be asking the commission to look at electoral arrangements for the islands areas once the bill has been enacted, with the aim of having any changes arising from the islands bill in place for the local elections in 2022.”
The decision not to change the boundaries in Argyll has been welcomed by Argyll and Bute Council.
Council leader Dick Walsh said: “We previously stated that reducing the number of councillors in Argyll and Bute would reduce our communities’ access to a local councillor and strongly opposed the proposed ward changes in our submission to Local Council Boundary Commission.
“Argyll and Bute has 23 inhabited islands and the second largest mainland of all of Scotland’s 32 council areas.
“There was a real concern that any changes would make it difficult for communities to be represented due to the challenges posed by travel and the lack of regular public transport links.
“I am pleased that these representations have been listened to by ministers.”
Scottish Borders Council has also welcomed the decision.
However, the Scottish Conservatives have criticised the Scottish Government for “cherry-picking” the boundary changes, claiming that “no explanation has been given by the SNP for the move, which is likely to cause upset in various areas of the country”, and calling the process for making the decision “dubious”.
Scottish Conservative local government spokesman Graham Simpson said: “The SNP must come clean – why have some councils had their proposals enacted and others not?
“Voters and councillors will rightly ask why the SNP is cherry-picking boundaries in this way.
“Not only has the SNP dragged its feet on boundary changes, but now we have an unprecedented intervention from ministers.
“It’s irrelevant whether political parties support these changes or not – the Scottish Government likes to think of itself as transparent and honest, which is why it must explain in detail the rationale behind these decisions.”
The boundary commission published its recommendations for changes to councillor numbers and ward boundaries in May, following completion of its fifth review of local government areas.
The changes, which will take effect at the local government elections next year, mean the total number of councillors in Scotland will increase slightly from 1,223 to 1,227.