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Reduction in number of Highland councillors 'completely unacceptable' says north MSP

By Gordon Calder

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PLANS to cut the number of Highland councillors by two have been described as "completely unacceptable" by a north MSP.

Maree Todd, the SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, is unhappy with the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland's proposals and said "our rural communities need more representation not less." She called on the public to express its views by taking part in a consultation which will run until January 26.

Highland MSP Maree Todd is against the Boundary Commission's plans
Highland MSP Maree Todd is against the Boundary Commission's plans

With the challenges of dealing with Brexit and the Covid pandemic there could not be a worse moment to cut the number of councillors, she says.

Ms Todd is to write to the Commission expressing her dismay while also meeting with the leader of Highland Council Margaret Davidson to discuss the matter.

Under the plan there would be 72 councillors in the Highlands and 20 wards which would be a loss of two councillors and one ward. There would be two 2-member wards, seven 3-member wards, eight 4-member wards and three 5-member wards under the plan.

In Caithness, there would be a total of seven councillors – down by one – three representing the landward area and two each in Thurso and Wick. Sutherland would have four councillors.

Ms Todd said: "Under these plans, Sutherland would go from six councillors to four with all of Sutherland becoming one enormous ward – bigger than the vast majority of UK and Scottish parliamentary constituencies.

“With Caithness also set to lose one councillor, what’s clear is these proposals demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the diverse and unique issues facing rural and remote communities."

The Commission wants members of the public and local communities to comment on the proposals before it develops its final recommendations for Scottish Ministers.

Ronnie Hinds, chair of the Commission, wants members of the public, community groups, and other local bodies to look at the proposals and submit their views, whether they support or oppose our proposals, before the deadline.

He said: "We expect our recommendations, if accepted, to be in place for the next local government elections in May 2022."

"We have taken account of the Scottish Elections (Reform) Act that will allow the use of 2-member and 5-member wards to design wards that consider local ties in Caithness and Dingwall and create more easily identifiable ward boundaries in Inverness and to the south of Inverness.

Under our proposals there are no changes to the boundaries of six of the existing wards."

The Commission is required to conduct electoral reviews at intervals of eight to 12 years.

Mr Hinds added: "One of the main reasons we undertake reviews is that the population, and therefore the electorate, of any local authority area is constantly changing, with migration into or out of areas as well as within the same area. As a result of these changes, some councillors may represent considerably more or fewer electors than other councillors in the same council area."

The Commission conducted a consultation on its proposals with Highland Council from 16 July to 30 September last year and is now conducting a 12 week public consultation. It got underway onNovember 4, 2020 and will run until Tuesday, 26 January.

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