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January 28, 2004

Executive Advised to Make PR Vote Plans Fairer
By Russell Fallis

Differences over plans for proportional representation (PR) voting in council elections were brought into focus tonight as Executive advisers recommended they be changed to make them fairer.

Labour agreed to replace the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system with the single transferable vote (STV), based on three and four member wards, as part of its coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats.

But an interim report by the STV working group recommends ministers alter the Bill going through Parliament to allow some wards to have five seats and others, in some remote areas, to have two.

Smaller parties support a larger number of members per ward as this tends to increase proportionality, so the recommendation is likely to find favour with Lib Dems.

But it is unlikely to be welcomed among Labour backbenchers who are already unhappy about the legislation, which is now undergoing its first stage of parliamentary scrutiny at Holyrood.

The report, issued tonight, confirms what Holyroods Local Government and Transport Committee was told in December by the group chair David Green.

He told MSPs then that a majority believed the maximum ward size should rise to five.

The report states: Some have argued that the proposed range of three to four members per ward would provide the least proportional form of STV in operation and the number should be increased to at least five to achieve proportionality.

There are also arguments for having two members where exceptional local circumstances of remoteness and sparsity of population dictate.

The requirement for greater flexibility in the range of number of members per ward has also been strongly argued by the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland to allow for geographical variation.

The group also recommends that new wards should be created afresh by the Local Government Boundary Commission subject to a three-month extendable consultation period rather than by merging existing wards.

Labour public services minister Andy Kerr said: Clearly this is an interim report but we will need to consider carefully these recommendations in the context of the passage of the Local Governance (Scotland) Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament.

A spokesman for First Minister Jack McConnell declined to comment on the report before seeing and considering its proposals, but added that the coalitions partnership agreement was quite clear on the issue of ward sizes.

The working group members include Bob Smith of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland, Dr Ken Ritchie of the Electoral Reform Society and Councillor Jim McCabe from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

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