The administration of the 2023 Review
Legislative framework and source data
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- The Boundary Commission for England (BCE) is an independent and impartial advisory non-departmental public body, established under the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 (‘the Act’) to keep under review Parliamentary constituency boundaries in England. Similar Commissions conduct equivalent work in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The members of the BCE and other key positions are listed at Appendix A.
- The statutory rules governing the conduct of our work are contained within the Act (as amended). These rules require a review of all UK Parliamentary constituencies to be conducted every eight years, with a report and recommendations submitted to the Speaker of the House of Commons at the end of the review, detailing the extent, name and designation of all constituencies in that Commission’s area. ‘Designation’ in this context means whether the constituency should be a ‘county constituency’ or a ‘borough constituency’.
- The statutory rules establish a fixed number of 650 constituencies (the same as the existing number of constituencies) for the UK, from which elections are to be held for the House of Commons. From this total, five constituencies (two in Scotland, one in Wales and two for the Isle of Wight) are ‘protected’, in the sense that they are reserved for the specified areas and thereby not subject to some of the criteria and statistical calculations applied to all other constituencies (in particular as regards electorate size).
The electorate for the 2023 Review
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- For a given review, the Act specifies a UK electorate figure at a particular point in time that is to be used throughout that review. For the 2023 Review this is the figure from the register of Parliamentary electors on 2 March 2020. This data was consolidated by the Office for National Statistics and published.
Distribution of constituencies across the UK
- The legislation then specifies a mathematical formula (set out in Schedule 2 to the Act and referred to as the Sainte-Laguë formula) to determine how the 645 unprotected constituencies are allocated to each part of the UK for a given review, taking into account the relative sizes of the respective Parliamentary electorates of each part of the UK (not including the electorates of the five protected constituencies). The statutory distribution formula applied to the electorate figures for the 2023 Review resulted in the following allocation:
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|Part of the UK||Constituencies allocated
|England||541 (+2 Isle of Wight)
|Scotland||55 (+2 protected constituencies)
|Wales||31 (+1 protected constituency)
|Total United Kingdom||645 (+5 protected constituencies)
The electoral quota and the permitted electorate range
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- The legislation requires all recommended unprotected constituencies to be broadly similar in electorate size. Specifically, they must all be within 5% of an ‘electoral quota’ figure, which is the mean average Parliamentary electorate for the 645 unprotected constituencies. We refer to this as the ‘permitted electorate range’. Using the 2023 Review electorate data, the electoral quota figure is 73,393, meaning the permitted electorate range for this review is between 69,724 (minimum) and 77,062 (maximum).
Local government boundaries
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- Where the Commissions wish to take account of local government boundaries (see statutory factors in the BCE policies section below), the Act says we may take into account such boundaries as they existed – or were in prospect – at a specified point in time. For the 2023 Review, the local government boundaries are those that existed or – where relevant – were in prospect (due to being made by an as yet unimplemented Order) as at 1 December 2020. Volume 2 of this report lists those council areas that had prospective boundaries on the operative date.
Geographical size of constituencies
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- The Act also requires all unprotected constituencies to be no larger than 13,000 square kilometres in size (except in prescribed circumstances). In England, this is not a concern, as even in its most sparsely populated areas constituency sizes do not come near this figure.
Requirements for public consultation
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- The legislation for the 2023 Review required the Commissions to conduct an eight-week public consultation on its initial proposals. We were required to display hard-copy materials in each proposed constituency and publicise the consultation period.
- All comments received during the initial consultation had subsequently to be published, and people given an opportunity to comment on those responses during a six-week public consultation period. During that consultation, we were also required to hold public hearings. In England, the legislation requires between two and five public hearings to be held in each of the nine English regions.
- Where Commissions revise their proposals in light of comments from the first two consultations, those revised proposals then had to be published and a final four-week public consultation conducted on them.
- Detailed information on how we complied with the consultation requirements – and actively sought to inform and engage the public in the consultations – is set out later in the report.
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- Within the mandatory legislative framework set out above, there are a number of key issues on which the Commissions have discretion to determine their own policies.
Sub-division of England into nine administrative regions
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- A key preliminary question before detailed work commenced was whether – from the outset – we should seek to contain constituencies within regional boundaries. Freely allowing constituencies to straddle regional boundaries would provide maximum flexibility, but might often be considered undesirable in terms of local community identity and the administration of elections in those constituencies, as it would inherently disregard local authority boundaries. We conducted a public consultation on this question in 2011, to which the overwhelming response was to support a general policy of working within regional boundaries in developing our proposals. For the 2018 Review, we adopted the same general policy and, during the 2023 Review, this approach was again overwhelmingly supported by respondents to the three public consultations.
- Therefore, for the 2023 Review, we adopted the same general policy of working within the nine regional boundaries. We stated clearly – before any public consultation in this review – that this approach did not prevent anyone from putting forward counter proposals that included one or more constituencies being split between regions, but that very compelling reasons would need to be given to persuade us to depart from the general policy.
- Having established that we would work within the nine regions, we then needed to distribute England’s allocation of 541 constituencies (plus the two protected constituencies) fairly between those regions. A further application of the Sainte-Laguë distribution formula – this time using only England figures – seemed to us the fairest approach. Again, such an approach was consulted on in 2011 and had been overwhelmingly supported both during that review and the 2018 Review.
Taking account of the statutory factors
- The legislation specifies a number of factors that a Commission ‘may take into account, if and to such extent as they think fit’, in developing proposals. Unlike consideration of geographical or electorate size, these are not mandatory requirements, but their explicit presence in the legislation leads the BCE to seek to have regard to them as far as possible (although in many instances the separate factors will lend themselves to differing options in the same area). The factors relevant to the 2023 Review are:
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- Special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency: We consider that the special geographical considerations that may have an impact on the ability to form a constituency with an electorate within the permitted electorate range will primarily relate to physical geography such as mountains, hills, lakes, rivers, estuaries or islands rather than to human or social geography. Matters of culture, history, socio-economics and other possible aspects of non-physical geography are more likely to arise as issues when considering the separate factor of ‘local ties’ (below).
- Local government boundaries: As noted above, this specifically relates to the boundaries as they existed or were in prospect on 1 December 2020. Such boundaries include both the external boundaries of local councils and their internal – ward or electoral division – boundaries. Our policy has been to identify constituencies by reference to local authority external boundaries as far as practicable, but it has nevertheless often proved necessary to cross these boundaries in order to form constituencies that comply with the permitted electorate range. Our particular policy in relation to the use of wards/electoral divisions is discussed further below.
- Boundaries of existing constituencies: We have sought to have regard to existing constituencies as far as possible, as we have not considered that it would be appropriate to start from a blank sheet of paper. However, the existing constituencies vary markedly in the size of their electorates. The mandatory requirement to keep within 5% of the electoral quota, and the substantial change in the number of constituencies across the country, mean that the scope for following existing constituency boundaries has been limited. Furthermore, it has been important to be clear that an existing constituency could not automatically be considered protected from change, simply on the basis of its electorate figure already falling within the permitted range: many such constituencies have needed to be altered, to allow for the creation of viable constituencies in the surrounding area.
- Any local ties that would be broken by changes in constituencies: We very much recognise that this factor resonates strongly with the general public. It is also the factor for which we have drawn most heavily on the evidence from consultation responses as to the exact nature of such local ties and of their impact.
- The inconveniences attendant on such changes: We broadly consider this factor alongside the boundaries of existing constituencies, as they are to some extent both considerations about changes to the existing pattern. As outlined above, the mandatory requirement to keep within 5% of the electoral quota means that substantial changes are likely to constituencies across the country.
Using the full permitted electorate range
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- Legislation does not require the Commissions to achieve constituency electorates that are as close as possible to the electoral quota figure, and we do not consider it appropriate to adopt such a policy objective. To do so would undermine our ability to properly take into account the other statutory factors mentioned above. Accordingly, by way of illustration, we have preferred to recommend a constituency that has, say, a 4% variance from the electoral quota, but which respects local ties, in preference to an alternative that would produce a constituency with only a 1% variance, but which would split communities.
Policy on wards
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- The BCE uses wards (in district and borough council areas) or electoral divisions (in areas of unitary authorities that have a county status) as the basic building block for designing constituencies. The use of the term ‘ward’ throughout the rest of this report should be taken to include electoral divisions in unitary authorities.
- The BCE’s long-standing policy is to avoid splitting a ward between constituencies unless there is an exceptional and compelling reason for doing so. Wards are well-defined and well-understood units, which are generally indicative of areas that share a broad community of interest. Any division of these units between constituencies would be likely to break local ties, disrupt political party organisations, and cause difficulties for electoral registration and returning officers. Our view is, therefore, that wards should continue to be the default building block for constituencies.
- However, we recognise that, in a limited number of cases, there may be exceptional and compelling circumstances – particularly having regard to the specified statutory factors mentioned above – that may make it appropriate to split a ward. Strong evidence and justification need to be provided in any constituency scheme that proposes splitting a ward, and examples of circumstances in which we have considered splitting a ward to be appropriate include: a) where splitting a ward would significantly enhance the ability of the BCE to adhere to existing or prospective local authority boundaries (as defined in the Act), maintain existing constituencies unchanged, and/or preserve local ties, without causing consequential significant problems for surrounding constituencies; or b) where splitting a single ward may prevent a significant ‘domino effect’ of otherwise unnecessary change to a chain of constituencies in order to meet the permitted electorate range requirement; or c) where the division of a ward would avoid other unacceptable outcomes forced by local geographical factors. Where we have found the need to split a ward, we have nevertheless generally sought to do so along the existing administrative boundaries of the polling districts that form part of that ward. Overall, we still believe that the number of such split wards should be kept to the smallest number possible, but are nevertheless recommending 50 split wards across England, where we feel a sufficiently strong justification exists.
- As far as possible, we have sought to create constituencies: a) from wards that are adjacent to each other; and b) that do not contain ‘detached parts’, i.e. where the only physical connection between one part of the constituency and the remainder would require travel through a different
Factors we do not consider
- There are a number of matters that we specifically do not take into account when looking at constituency boundaries. In particular, these are:
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- Voting patterns and support for political parties: As an independent and impartial body, we emphasise very strongly that existing voting patterns and the prospective fortunes of political parties should not and do not enter our considerations during a review. Unlike the following issues, there is no nuance to this: we do not collect information on voting patterns, and we conduct our work without any consideration as to what implications our proposals may have on the fortunes of particular political parties or individual politicians.
- Changes to local government boundaries after the specified statutory date: The local government boundaries that we may take into account in the 2023 Review are – as stated previously – those that existed or were in prospect on 1 December 2020. Consequently, we have not generally taken into account new boundaries that may have come into effect at local council elections after this date. However, in the limited circumstances where we have decided to split a ward (as it existed or was in prospect on 1 December 2020) between be split, we have sought to take into account as appropriate any new ward boundaries introduced after 1 December 2020.
- Changes to electorates after the specified statutory date: We are required to work on the basis of the numbers of electors on the electoral registers on 2 March 2020. As such, we cannot take account of claims of under-registration or any later changes to the number of electors in some areas.
Naming and designating constituencies
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- In making our recommendations, we are required by the legislation to specify a name and designation for each proposed constituency, but there is no statutory guidance on these points.
- Our policy on the naming of constituencies is that, where recommended constituencies remain largely unchanged, the existing constituency name should usually be retained. In such cases constituency names are likely to be altered only where there is good reason for change or there is strong local support for an alternative name.
- Where a new name is justified, our general policy has been that the name should normally reflect the main population centre(s) contained in the constituency. Where a new constituency is split between two or more local authorities, the name will generally relate primarily to the majority area, but we also seek to give some recognition in the name to the minority area (particularly where it consists of more than one ward). However, this is not always practicable.
- We adopt compass point names when there does not appear to be an obviously more suitable name. The compass point reference used generally forms a prefix in cases where the rest of the constituency name refers to the county area or a local council, but a suffix where the rest of the name refers to a population centre.
- We have been conscious of the desirability of constituency names being shorter rather than longer. However, this has not always been achievable as respondents have sought to lengthen constituency names in order to make them more reflective of the areas represented.
- Notwithstanding the above, where a suitable alternative name is proposed that generally commands greater support locally than what we may have initially proposed, we have usually been able to recommend that alternative.
- In designating constituencies, our policy is that, as a general principle, where constituencies contain more than a small rural element, they should normally be designated as county constituencies. In other cases they should be designated as borough constituencies. The designation is suffixed to the constituency name and is usually abbreviated: BC for borough constituency and CC for county constituency.
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The first review since 2018
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- Although the Commissions commenced working under the new rules immediately after the legislation was enacted in 2011 (in what we refer to as the ‘2013 Review’), subsequent amendment of the legislation in early 2013 effectively required all the Commissions to abandon that work and restart in 2016, with a view to making their final recommendations in September 2018. Therefore, we refer to the latter review as the 2018 Review. In December
2020 the legislation was changed again, including the provision to retain the existing number of constituencies in the UK at 650. Therefore, by default it would not be possible to implement the recommendations of the completed 2018 Review, as they were based on a reduction of the number of constituencies to 600, as was then required. As the current legislation requires that each Commission submit its final recommendations to the Speaker of the House of Commons before 1 July 2023, we therefore refer to the current review as the ‘2023 Review’, and consider it the first review since the enactment of the new rules in 2020.
Establishing and publishing the local government boundaries dataset
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- The legislation provides for local government boundaries as they existed or were in prospect on 1 December 2020 to be those of which we may take account in our review work. These were established by taking a snapshot of the relevant boundaries as they are officially mapped by Ordnance Survey (OS) in its Boundary-Line product and copies of prospective local government boundaries as provided by the (separate) Local Government Boundary Commission for England.
Establishing the Parliamentary electorate dataset, calculation of the distribution of constituencies and formal launch of the 2023 Review
- The aggregate Parliamentary electorate figures for the UK for the 2023 Review – and subsequent distribution of constituencies between the four parts of the UK using the statutory Sainte-Laguë formula – were as follows:
|Total United Kingdom||47,338,266||645 (+5)
*The electorates of the five protected constituencies are not included in the figures.
Applying the Sainte-Laguë distribution formula to the England-only data resulted in the following allocation across England:
|South East||6,522,802*||89 (+2)
|Yorkshire and the Humber||3,966,500||54
|Total England||39,748,705*||541 (+2)
*Excludes electorate of the Isle of Wight.
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- Although we were able to determine the total electorate figures (and therefore make the overarching calculations detailed above) without significant difficulty, we did experience significant issues in finalising the precise ward-level electorate figures for each local authority. This was because of a dislocation – for the 2023 Review – between the operative date for the elector numbers (2 March 2020) and that for the boundaries of the wards within which those electors sit (1 December 2020). This was further compounded by the new legislative provision that ‘prospective’ ward boundaries should be used for the review, rather than outgoing ward boundaries: again this needs to be by reference to a specific operative date (wards are ‘prospective’ if the legal Order for them was made by 1 December 2020), but reviews of – and changes to – local government wards are a rolling and ongoing process that takes no account of a Parliamentary constituencies review. Particularly in London, this cut-off date fell in the middle of a sequence of Orders being made for new wards in London boroughs, meaning that for some boroughs we had to acquire figures associated with incoming prospective wards, while for others
we had to use figures associated with outgoing wards. Ensuring that we received the correct dataset for each authority, and that those figures were accurate, notwithstanding the complex requirements for generating them, was a lengthy and intricate process.
Development of initial proposals, recruitment of Assistant Commissioners and logistical planning for the initial consultation
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- As soon as the numbers of constituencies for each region were established, we commenced work drawing up and analysing multiple different options for how constituencies might best be changed (where necessary) to ensure an optimal scheme in every area that complied with the statutory factors. After consulting with the qualifying political parties, we also published, in May 2021, our ‘Guide to the 2023 Review’, which sought to set out clearly in one place the statutory requirements for the review, what our own policies in relation to it were, and how, when and where the review would progress. This was one of the first significant steps intended to both aid the general public’s understanding of the 2023 Review, and support and encourage their informed engagement with the later consultation stages of the process.
- In parallel with this substantive work, the secretariat made the administrative arrangements for the printing of the initial proposals reports and maps, distribution of those to the statutory places of public deposit in each proposed constituency, and the distribution of bespoke initial proposals packs to all MPs representing current English constituencies. We also undertook significant work to procure, build and test an online consultation portal service – through which the public could interact with our proposals and easily submit representations.
- Also during this period, we ran an open recruitment competition to have suitable individuals appointed to assist us in our task. ‘Assistant Commissioners’ play a key role through the middle stages of the review in chairing public hearings, analysing representations received, and making proposals to us for revisions. A key reason for being supported by the Assistant Commissioners during the middle stages of the review is that they are not part of the formulation of the initial proposals. We sought to fill 18 positions, and received 219 applications, conducting 46 interviews. Following our recommendation of names to the appropriate Minister, 18 Assistant Commissioners were appointed for 12-month terms of office running from 1 October 2021. We allocated two Assistant Commissioners to each of the nine regions.
- In each region, one of the Assistant Commissioners was identified as the lead Assistant Commissioner. During the course of the review two Assistant Commissioners resigned due to other commitments. We therefore finished the review with 16 Assistant Commissioners, of whom two worked on two regions.
Consultation on the initial proposals
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- Our initial proposals were published on 8 June 2021, and we ran a public consultation on them for the statutory eight-week period, with the last date for receipt of responses being 2 August 2021. We undertook a significant range of communications activities to promote public awareness and understanding of the consultation, and to encourage engagement. In addition to the statutory requirement to place initial proposals in a public place of deposit in each proposed constituency, these communications activities included national press adverts, a national and local media briefing session, supported by a national and local media news release, spokesperson interviews on national and local media outlets, and audience-specific digital advertising on websites and popular social media applications.
- By the end of the initial proposals consultation period, we had received 34,441 individual representations (including a number of petitions and letter-writing campaigns) via our consultation website, email, and hard-copy letter.
Collation of material for secondary consultation
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- Following the close of the consultation on the initial proposals, all of the responses were prepared for publication, as required by the legislation. During this period, logistical arrangements were made for the public hearings to be convened during the secondary consultation.
Secondary consultation on responses to initial proposals
- We published all the responses to the initial proposals on 7 February 2022, in order to allow those who might have wished to make an oral representation at a public hearing time to consider the responses received. On 22 February 2022 we commenced the statutory six-week period for consultation on those responses, which subsequently closed on 4 April 2022.
- We supported this consultation period with a news release to national and local media, and further audience-specific advertising on websites and social media.
- In line with the legislative requirements, we also ran between two and five public hearings in each region of England during the statutory consultation period. Public hearings were chaired by Assistant Commissioners and were held in the following locations:
|Region||Public hearing locations
|East Midlands||Nottingham, Leicester, Northampton
|Eastern||Cambridge, Southend, Ipswich
|London||Westminster, Havering, Ealing, Merton, Bromley
|North East||Newcastle, Middlesbrough
|North West||Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Preston, Kendal
|South East||Crawley, Portsmouth, Reading, Ashford
|South West||Exeter, Gloucester, Bath, Dorchester
|West Midlands||Birmingham, Stafford, Worcester
|Yorkshire and the Humber||Leeds, Hull, Northallerton
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- During this consultation we received 11,509 individual representations (again including a number of petitions and letter-writing campaigns) via our consultation website, email and hard-copy letter, and from those who made oral representations at public hearings.
Analysis of responses, development of revised proposals and planning for revised consultation
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- Following the end of the secondary consultation period, all of the 45,950 responses from the initial and the secondary consultations were brought together for each area and assessed in detail by the Assistant Commissioners and review staff for the relevant region. This work included mapping out counter proposals that had been put forward by respondents (including considering how any unspecified consequential effects on surrounding areas might best be accommodated), and visiting any areas around the country that had proved particularly complex or controversial. Our Assistant Commissioners then considered all the representations received, the counter proposals put forward, and any further solutions that would reflect the local communities while remaining within the numerical constraints of the legislation, and made recommendations to the Commission on what revisions to make to the initial proposals.
- Also during this period, the secretariat made the administrative arrangements for the printing of the revised proposals reports and maps, distribution of those to the statutory places of public deposit in each proposed constituency, and the distribution of bespoke revised proposals packs to all MPs representing current English constituencies.
Consultation on the revised proposals
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- Our revised proposals were published on 8 November 2022, and we ran a public consultation on them for the statutory four-week period, with the last date for receipt of responses being 5 December 2022. We again undertook a full range of communications activities to promote public awareness and understanding of the consultation, and to encourage engagement. In addition to the statutory requirement to place revised proposals in a public place of deposit in each proposed constituency, these communications activities again included national press adverts, a national and local media briefing session, supported by a national and local media news release, spokesperson interviews on national and local media outlets, and audience-specific digital advertising on websites and popular social media applications.
- By the end of the revised proposals consultation period, we had received 18,890 individual representations (again including a number of petitions and letter-writing campaigns) via our consultation website, email and hard-copy letter.
Development of final recommendations and drafting of final report
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- Following the close of this final consultation, individual Commissioners worked with the secretariat to analyse in detail the evidence in the responses, and assess whether any final adjustments would be appropriate. The Commission as a whole then considered this analysis and advice, and decided on any final amendments to be made.
- The text of this final report and the associated illustrative maps were then prepared, ready for submission to the Speaker of the House of Commons before 1 July 2023, as prescribed by the legislation.
Administrative learning from the 2023 Review and wider issues
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- Through the course of preparing for and delivering the 2023 Review, we have identified a number of administrative aspects where we believe that our experience has been particularly positive (thus the continuation of these should be considered at the next review), or where improvements to the current process could be usefully made, which may provide better value for public money and improve the process overall. Where it is within our powers to implement these improvements we will do so, but some may require Parliament considering changes to the legislation that governs our work.
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- As previously outlined, Parliament decided to change the consultation period during which public hearings were convened. For the 2023 Review, the hearings were held in the secondary consultation period (previously they were held in the initial consultation period). We considered that this was an improvement to the process, particularly as participants were better informed of the views of other respondents. Therefore, at the public hearings, respondents were able to set out their views on our initial proposals and any views they wished to express on the representations of others. We considered this added value in terms of supporting our Assistant Commissioners to form a better understanding of counter proposals received.
- We would like to make one further suggestion that we consider might increase participation in future public hearings. At present, the legislation requires public hearings to be held in person. We would welcome the ability to have more flexibility in approach, particularly the ability to deliver hybrid public hearings; for example, an in-person and online hearing convened at the same time. We recognise that this might bring some technical challenges, although we consider that these could be overcome, particularly as many people are now more accustomed to using online meeting platforms following the Coronavirus pandemic. Our view is that a hybrid approach would be a more effective use of public money as it may require fewer in-person hearings to be convened and may further improve accessibility of, and encourage participation in, hearings, particularly from those at work, or with caring commitments or mobility issues.
Communications and use of technology
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- As the Commission did during the 2018 Review, we have sought to build on the success of making best use of technology, particularly in the use of an online consultation portal and digital communication methods.
- To facilitate the public consultation process, we procured the provision of a web-based consultation tool, which combined a public-facing interactive mapping and consultation response facility with a backend database to support consultation response analysis. The front-facing interactive map provided a user-friendly interface where an individual could explore our proposals (both initial and revised) and seamlessly submit their comments to us on those; then subsequently be able to see the comments that others had provided in earlier stages of the consultation. The system was designed to make the collation and sorting of responses much easier and more efficient, which in turn made for a much improved experience for both the public at the secondary consultation stage when searching for particular kinds of responses that had been submitted by others, and for the secretariat in facilitating the analysis of so many responses throughout the review.
- During the 2018 Review the Commission had managed to receive approximately 90% of its written responses directly through the online consultation portal (it had a target of 70%). We therefore had a similar ambition. In comparison to the 2018 Review, during the 2023 Review we received nearly double the amount of representations in total, with almost 92% of these being received directly through the online consultation portal. We again consider that this has proved successful and demonstrates that the public were able to easily engage in the online system and that it was the preferred choice of engagement compared with either email or hard-copy letter. While technology continues to develop at pace, we would suggest that a similar system be used at future reviews.
- To assist those who were interested in developing patterns of constituencies across larger areas, we published our proposals in geographic information software format. We consider the same practice should be adopted in the future.
- A recommendation of the 2018 Review was that the Commission should continue to build on the success of using online and social media advertising as part of any strategy in raising awareness of the 2023 Review. We followed this recommendation and considered that it was effective in promoting awareness of the review and public consultations, providing relatively good value for money. Based on the evaluations of our communication strategy, we would propose a similar approach be adopted at future reviews. We did receive some correspondence from individuals who considered that the Commission should have written to them directly informing them about the review. While we of course understand and sympathise with this view, it is not financially feasible without a significant increase in our communications budget, in order to cover the cost of a letter being sent to every household in England.
Continued requirement on materials provided to places of deposit
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- The legislation requires the Commission to ensure that a copy of its initial and revised proposals for each proposed constituency is made available for inspection at a place in the area of that proposed constituency. Therefore, once we have determined our proposals, the secretariat works with local authorities and other public-facing bodies to identify suitable public locations for the materials, for example local libraries and public areas of council offices. For the 2023 Review, we were required to make available proposals at a minimum of 543 proposed constituencies in England.
- This exercise was more challenging than during previous reviews, as a number of venues were not comfortable accepting physical materials, particularly during the Coronavirus pandemic. We conducted an evaluation of interest in the materials at all the places of deposit and noted that most places had very low numbers of requests to see the documents and, in some cases nobody at all requested to see the materials during either consultation period.
- The printing of the materials costs a considerable amount of public money and also has environmental impacts. Given the significant number of people who now participate in the consultations online, we would ask that the requirement on the Commission to make available physical copies of its materials at places of deposit be reconsidered. Even though there remains a number of individuals with no private access to the internet, public access is generally available through terminals at public libraries, for example, so perhaps a requirement on Commissions to notify – at an appropriate stage of a review – the authorities that run public libraries of when, where, and how the constituency review consultations can be engaged with would be an appropriate alternative requirement.
Availability of a national sub-ward layer in England
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- As part of the 2023 Review, in our preparatory work, we worked with electoral registration officers and Ordnance Survey to receive electoral data and the Boundary-Line product. Although, as part of this work, we attempted to obtain a complete map of polling districts across England, this was not achievable. The Commission had previously received funding to have Ordnance Survey formulate this mapping layer at the 2018 Review, but, without any legislative change and ongoing funding, this very quickly became outdated, due to the constantly changing nature of these highly localised administrative boundaries. Therefore, when considering whether to split a ward between constituencies, we had to commission from individual local authorities copies of polling district boundaries, which we then had to ensure were mapped accurately. Doing this on a case-by-case basis was a lengthy and at times onerous process, which is far from ideal given the already pressing constraints of working to a statutory timetable for delivery of a review. We would therefore strongly suggest that further thought be given to whether a mapping layer of polling districts could be both re-established and – crucially – thereafter maintained on a rolling basis.
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- Under the current statutory provisions, a constituency review takes place every eight years, but active review work must be completed within a much shorter period – a little longer than two and a half years. With the possibility of more localised ‘interim reviews’ having been removed from the legislation in 2011, there is little more than recording and monitoring of annual electorates to occupy the Commission and its staff in the other ‘fallow’ five and a half years. As a direct result, we currently experience the loss of most if not all of our secretariat staff during this period, and then need to go through a recruitment and technical training process for new staff as a new review begins, all of which involves a cost in terms of both recruitment and loss of knowledge and expertise. Furthermore, we are also likely to experience the loss of experience of Commissioners, given that public appointment guidance is generally that any public appointment should be for a maximum period of two five-year terms.
- We believe this poses a significant risk to the capability of the Commission ahead of the next review. In terms of Commissioner appointments, it might be appropriate to consider appointments of eight years to recognise the exceptional case that boundary review cycles are now in eight-year periods. We note that the Constitution Unit at University College London recently made a similar observation.
- In terms of the secretariat, we consider that a solution could be to explore closer working relationships with the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) and the other Boundary Commissions in the United Kingdom. We consider this could provide potential benefits in terms of efficient sharing of best practice and in areas of mutual cooperation.
Timely refresh of constituencies
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- The current constituencies were brought into force at the General Election in 2010, but were for almost all constituencies the product of the last completed general review under the pre-2011 legislation, the electorate data for which was set at the beginning of that review, in 2000. If the recommendations set out later in this report are approved by Order in Council, then they would be the new constituencies at the General Election thereafter.
- The current constituencies – brought into being at the 2010 General Election – are mostly not within the new +/-5% range from the electoral quota, and never were (even in 2010, only 196 of England’s 533 constituencies were within that range). Two subsequent reviews to address that situation were not taken forward, with the net effect being an extended period of time during which a broad disparity of constituency electorates was allowed to persist, offending against the very principle that the legislation exists to maintain. The changes made to the legislation in 2020 should mean that there is not such a long period elapsing between implemented reviews in future.