VOTERS in Tunbridge Wells will be asked whether the Council should scrap its annual elections in favour of a single ballot every four years, after the Town Hall voted to approve a consultation on the plans.
Currently at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, councillors are elected in thirds, with 16 of the Town Hall’s 48 members elected every year for three years.
No elections are held on the fourth year when the Kent County Council and Police and Crime Commissioner elections take place.
But boundary changes and a reduction in councillor numbers are set to be introduced by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE), which will see many wards, especially in rural areas, merged.
The LGBCE says as the Council is elected in thirds, there should be three councillors for each ward, and is suggesting the number of wards in Tunbridge Wells be reduced from 20 to 13.
Councillor numbers are also set to be cut from 48 to 39.
As reported in the Times last week, former leader and Conservative Benenden & Cranbrook councillor, Tom Dawlings wants the Council to hold all-out elections every four years.
“All-out elections will save around £200,000 over a four-year period. Changing to all-out elections is a way to save costs and protect services.”
He has said the changes suggested by the LGBCE could lead to less representation for voters in rural wards.
At an Extraordinary Full Council meeting of Tunbridge Wells Borough council last Wednesday (October 5), Cllr Dawlings brought forward a motion for the Council to approve a consultation into scrapping the current election cycle in favour of a single all-out poll every four years.
He claims the move will prevent the need from the LGBCE from changing the ward boundaries.
“My personal view is that electors benefit from having mostly single – and two-member wards making councillors more representative of their communities and more accountable to their electors,” he told the Town Hall.
“That is something we will be able to ask the Commission to consider [in their ward boundary proposal] but this can only be done when we determine to have all-out elections.”
He added that there were substantial cost savings in holding just one election every four years and not three.
“A real benefit for the council in these inflationary times is the cost of running elections,” he said. “The elections in May cost the council £130,000. Currently one of the three borough council elections are shared with the Police and Crime Commissioner.
However, not everybody was in favour of scrapping the current election cycle and others warned that even if the Council made the change, there was no guarantee ward boundaries still wouldn’t be changed.
Councillor Nancy Warne (Alliance, Benenden & Cranbrook), said that while she would vote for the proposal, she had reservations.
“I will support this motion but what concerns me, as a result of the Commission, is we repeat this debate from last year about all-out and third [of chamber] elections. There is no guarantee that what the Boundary Commission will come up with will be any less of a mish-mash than what is proposed at the moment,” she explained.
The motion was eventually passed 33 votes to 10, meaning a public consultation will now take place later in the year.
If the Council do decide to adjust the election cycle following the consultation, the changes will come into effect in 2024.