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Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee

Review of Electoral Arrangements for the Highland Council Area

Letter from Highland Council - 9 September 2021

Dear MSP

Review of Electoral Arrangements for the Highland Council Area

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight our concerns in relation to Boundaries Scotland’s final proposals regarding their review of electoral arrangements for the
Highland Council area. I understand that the Scottish Government intends to submit these proposals to Parliament shortly.

I understand that the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee will consider the SSI legislating for these proposals and as a member of the that Committee, I would like to advise you that the Council is strongly opposed to these proposals and would wish to see them rejected with Boundaries Scotland being asked to undertake a further review after the local government elections in May 2022.

I have highlighted below the key issues of concern: -

• North West Sutherland and Wester Ross are the largest local authority wards in Europe. The Boundary commission is suggesting we reduce the current numbers of councillors in both. In North West Sutherland that will reduce the number of Councillors to two. This makes a ward almost unmanageable and severally reduces the constituent’s democratic representation. These wards
are also prominent in Scottish Government policy to reduce depopulation. We should not be cutting across important national policy.

• It is proposed to reduce the membership of the Ward covering Eilean a’ Cheo, Isle of Skye. There is no evidence that an Island Impact Assessment hasbeen undertaken, which I understand is a legal requirement.

• Boundaries Scotland are proposing a split of the Aird and Loch Ness Ward. The proposed new boundary rips the community around Loch Ness down the middle of the Loch. Boundary Commission’s guidelines clearly state that they try not to split communities. This will be an extremely disappointing decision if it continues.

It is proposed to add South Loch Ness to the nearest inverness ward. We acknowledge that is growing and could be increased from three to four and deserves an extra councillor, which would then enable Aird and Loch Ness to be left as it currently is.

• Boundaries Scotland notes in its report that Ward 17, Culloden and Ardersier, still has a significant level of under representation (54.2% above parity) and so will keep this under review and will conduct an interim review if necessary. This is a significant departure from the metrics used in deciding on councillor numbers and it is not clear why the opportunity has not been taken now to increase the level of representation when the forecast is for further growth.

As I stated previously, we are strongly of the view that the changes proposed by Boundaries Scotland fails to recognise the specific Highland context, particularly in relation to parity, sparsity, rurality and deprivation and, if implemented, would result in a significant democratic deficit for the Highlands. It is for these reasons that we feel these proposals should be rejected and that Boundaries Scotland be asked to undertake a further review after the local government elections in May 2022.

I do hope that the points of concern that I have set out will be helpful in providing you with some local context as you consider this matter.

Yours sincerely
Margaret Davidson
Leader of the Highland Council

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