9 September 2011

Mr Mustard's musings #2 - Why are there 63 councillors ?

Mr Mustard is the new boy amongst the Barnet Bloggers so has less knowledge of the history of the Council and so he sometimes asks the obvious questions and doesn't accept the "we've always done it this way" line. So Mr Mustard thought to himself, whilst watching a councillor take no part in a meeting except to put her hand up for votes on party lines, what was the point of her being there? That led Mr Mustard to wonder why there are 63 councillors and why there are 3 for each ward (a small local area).

So Mr Mustard did some research. He found variations in the number of councillors for each council and in the number of councillors per ward.

Mr Mustard found that in 2009/10 Mansfield Council started with a clean sheet. They worked out how many councillors they needed to run the council effectively and then re-organised themselves. That is the process which Mr Mustard thinks should take place in Barnet. 

So Mr Mustard acted pro-actively and wrote to the leader of the council, Cllr. Cornelius, as it needs him to get the ball rolling.

Here is what he wrote:-

Dear Cllr Cornelius

I expect that you are aware of the changes that took place in Mansfield Council in 2009/10 to reduce the number of Councillors.

Whilst Mansfield & Barnet cannot be directly compared lessons can be learnt from what they did. I attach 2 pdf documents about this. ( due to a 10mb limit only one was attached in the end - you can find lots of information about Mansfield here.)

In my view 63 Councillors is far too many. Having 3 for each ward is confusing and it would be better if each resident had just one Councillor for their local matters.

The approach taken by Mansfield was to start with a clean sheet and work out how many Councillors were necessary to run the Council in an efficient manner. I think that Barnet Council should consider doing the same and that system could then hopefully be up and running by the next local election.

It would also save money and be administratively easier for democratic services to deal with.

Please let me know what you think.

If the matter has been considered by Council in the last 5 years please do point me at the publicly available paperwork.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Mr Mustard recently heard back from Cllr Cornelius as follows:-

Dear Mr Mustard

Thank you for the suggestion of cutting the 63 councillors. 

With the current level of meetings and ward work my feeling is that we can`t work with fewer councillors. 

However as the borough grows, any growth in the number of members needs to be carefully considered and if central government changes the role of a council again numbers need reviewing. 

Whatever one`s political view it is important that we have democratic oversight of what the council is doing and I would be very loath to reduce numbers to such an extent that it would be impaired.

Yours sincerely

Richard Cornelius

This reply does not answer all of the points but at least it is a clear and polite no thank you after some consideration of the idea. Some of Mr Mustard's emails to other councillors get deleted unread or receive intemperate replies and so it is a bit sad that being responded to in a businesslike manner causes Mr Mustard to comment upon the matter.

Mr Mustard has written again and although he doesn't expect an answer he is going to send Cllr. Cornelius a link to this posting so he can add his view if he wishes, or Mr Mustard will add a footnote for him if he is not au fait with blogging.

Dear Councillor Cornelius

Thank you for your reply. 
Thank you for thinking about the matter. We have opposite views. I will give my idea the oxygen of publicity and see what happens. If you get lots of residents writing to you the idea may need further consideration.
I do not believe that all councillors are overloaded with work and I have grave doubts that some of them even read the agenda papers in advance of the meetings. If all members did so there would surely be no errors in reports for citizens to find. See for example: Mr Reasonable's blog

You have no need to comment further unless you wish to.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

So here is some of Mr Mustard's reasoning and then he rather expects some lively debate in the comments box. 

Sadly the former leader is off on sick leave and not attending meetings and has been for some months. This has proved that the council can manage with one fewer councillor.

Cllr Cornelius did not give any reason why 3 local councillors are needed per ward. We do not have 3 MP's for each constituency or 3 dentists each. Mr Mustard does not think that in his ward at least ( High Barnet ) there is all that much ward work and it would be more transparent if there were just one councillor per ward. The wards would be smaller in size and with less residents per councillor.

Cllr Cornelius implies that the current level of meetings and ward work is high. Mr Mustard thinks it will be for him but if he swapped with a councillor who has only one committee to attend in addition to the main council  he would see the level of work in a different light. Mr Mustard has seen Mr Reasonable asks more questions, and better ones, than most councillors. Mrs Angry attends more meetings than most councillors.

Mr Mustard does not want the borough to grow. It is already one of the largest in London. It is green and pleasant; we are one of the green lungs of London. Concreting over large parts of the borough for housing & shopping is a bad idea. The State of the Borough report says that 8% of the population changes each year, that is one person in 12 or about 26,000 people. Please do not think Mr Mustard is zenophobic but is the point of Barnet to be a gigantic transit camp for London? We need some stability if proper provision is to be made for schools,care homes, health care etc.

Democratic oversight! Mr Mustard will leave that for Mrs Angry to well and truly trash. Mr Mustard has sat through enough committees now to see that there is very little questioning and some chairs just want to get through the business in the shortest possible time and pressurize councillors to curtail or not ask questions. The shortest meeting Mr Mustard has been to lasted for 22 minutes and they all have 100 or 200 pages of A4 to consider. It simply is not possible to do it justice in that time.

So whether you agree with Mr Mustard or Cllr Cornelius do please add comments below and if you think we don't need 63 councillors please email Cllr Cornelius on this link.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. Why are there 63 Councillors? Well if you discount the ones off sick, the ones on holiday, the ones in jail for fiddling their expenses, the incompetent ones, the ones to busy having an affair, the ones asleep most of the time, the ones too busy running their own business, the ones chasing photo opportunities (kissing babies and cutting ribbons etc), at any one time you probably only have a couple of councillors actually doing their job .

  2. You maybe underestimate how much work is involved, with many people using their local councillors as social workers and advisors. None of this is reflected in what goes on in Hendon Town Hall.

    On the other hand, some councillors never pull their weight, and the other two or even one have to keep the show on the road.

  3. cllrs are not social workers, they have neither the expertise nor the qualifications, and should not allow themselves to be used as such.

    They have a duty to represent their ward's views, and need to listen, but three seperate ears listening to the same voices does indeed seem like overkill.


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