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Stoke wary of proposed reform

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Stoke-on-Trent City councillors have reacted with scepticism to a recommendation that their numbers should be slashed by up to two-thirds.

The proposal was one of 14 measures aimed at reinvigorating what a government-appointed panel called a “deep-seated malaise” in the city’s politics. Other recommendations from the commission, chaired by University of Birmingham vice chancellor Professor Michael Clarke, included a switch to smaller, single-member wards and all-out elections every four years.

Labour group leader Joy Garner said that while the move to all-out elections could improve stability, reducing the number of councillors and single member wards would be a problem.

“We’ve had members who are long-term sick, and the democratic effect of something like that in a single-member ward does concern me,” she said.

Ann James, leader of Stoke’s main opposition grouping, City Independent, questioned how any effective scrutiny role could be performed if councillor numbers were reduced to just 20 the minimum suggested in the report.

Elected mayor Mark Meredith (Lab) said he broadly supported the suggestions on reforming politics in the council, which has representation from seven parties, including a nine-strong British National Party camp.

He said single-member wards would improve accountability, but accepted that it would be tough selling the reduction in councillors to members.

"It’s going to be quite difficult to get the turkeys voting for Christmas,” he said.

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