Is party dominance costing North Somerset Council?
PUBLISHED: 12:00 20 October 2015
COUNCILS dominated by one political party could have a higher risk of corruption and lose billions of pounds each year, according to new research.
The Electoral Reform Society has studied the cost of one-party councils, authorities which are dominated by a single party, or have a significant number of uncontested seats.
North Somerset Council was not included in its research, but the its Liberal Democrat group leader and Weston-super-Mare central ward councillor Mike Bell said it is an example of an authority being dominated by one party, which he described as ‘not healthy for democratic accountability’.
Conservatives hold 36 of 50 seats – 72 per cent – after securing 40.7 per cent of the votes cast in May’s election.
The research says one-party councils could be losing out on enormous savings compared to more competitive counterparts.
But the council’s Conservative deputy leader Elfan Ap Rees said: “The scrutiny process gives all opposition members the opportunity to challenge the lead administration.”
The research found links between weak electoral accountability and a risk of corruption.
Cllr Bell said: “While I would not suggest the council is corrupt, there is no doubt that domination by a single party – and in North Somerset’s case, by a small group within that party – is not healthy for democratic accountability.
“North Somerset has been led by the same political group and same personalities for eight years.
“I am glad this is throwing the spotlight on ‘one-party’ councils and asking the question – do they deliver good representation, good decisions and value for money?”
Labour group leader and Milton ward councillor Richard Tucker believes there is an unfairness between the amount of votes cast for each party, and the amount of seats it secures.
He said: “Apart from the representative unfairness in the system, this also has implications on capacity in being able to scrutinise the working of the council.”
But Cllr Ap Rees, who is ward councillor for Locking, said the electorate recognises ‘good decision-making’, and added: “The fact is the North Somerset electorate has twice now voted for the same party and team to run the council.
“They obviously recognised the good decision-making and value for money, even in these budget-saving times.
“In the last eight years we have had a 50 per cent change on the executive. Surely the important criteria is the experience and the knowledge a member can bring to the executive role.”