Sunday, 22 November 2009

Boundary Commission at bottom of learning curve

When I learned last year that several key figures in the Boundary Commission for Wales were to retire together, I feared there might be trouble. The publication last month of some strange recommendations to ward boundaries in Neath Port Talbot suggested that the new lot had something to learn about geography. Now it seems that their mathematics needs brushing up.

Rodney Berman, the leader of the Welsh Local Government Association’s Liberal Democrat Group, smelled a rat when he examined proposals for Newport and for Denbighshire. The Commission had been given guidance by the Minister for Local Government, Brian Gibbons, that in reviewing the electoral arrangements of all Welsh counties it should aim “to achieve electoral divisions with a councillor to electorate ratio no lower than 1:1750”. The Commission confused lower with higher ratios. For example: in Newport, Commissioners are proposing moving from a current ratio of councillors to electors of 1:2283 to a ratio of 1:2447 on the wrong assumption that 1:2447 is more than 1:2283. In actual fact a ratio of 1:2447 is less than a ratio of 1:2283 because it gives you a lesser number of councillors for a given size of electorate.

To make absolutely certain, Rodney had professors of mathematics and of medical statistics confirm his suspicions in writing.

Apparently, there is already a row between WAG and the Commission, presumably over the Commission's failure to take notice of minister Dr Gibbons' other request, to consider local accountability in drawing up its proposals. Rodney Berman says: "Angry letters have been exchanged with the Commission complaining that its independence is being threatened. But no-one seems to have spotted that the Commission has got its maths wrong, and this is a key reason why it has come up with results which are contrary to what the Minister intended.

“What concerns me most is the amount of time and money that could have been wasted as a result of this blunder. Boundary reviews that have been published, or are still in preparation, may now turn out to be invalid and the Commission may have to go back to the drawing board. This could mean the Commission is unable to complete its task of reviewing electoral division boundaries in all 22 Welsh local authorities in time for the next round of local elections in Wales in 2012.”

More details are on Freedom Central.

Neath Port Talbot council meets in just over three weeks time. The Boundary Commission proposals are on the agenda. It should be a lively session.

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