Does Brighton and Hove really need 54 councillors?

Few, if any, do it for the money. Essentially, they are all amateurs. In charge of a £750 million budget.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 10.51.16The die has been cast. The voting has ended. Tomorrow (Saturday), the votes will be counted.

And 54 of the 236 people who put their names forward to be city councillors - many of them, it has to be said, only "paper" candidates with no likelihood of success - will be elected.

Some wards have three councillors; some have only two. In some cases, all the councillors in a ward have been - and will be - from the same party.

We should be grateful for their service. Few, if any, do it for the money. Essentially, they are all amateurs. In charge of a £750 million budget.

Councillors receive an allowance of £11,762 a year. The new leader of the council will receive a special responsibility allowance of £31,200, which will bring the total to £42,962. The opposition leader will receive an extra £10,920, making £22,682 in total. Meanwhile, the councillor who chairs the planning committee, for example, will receive an extra £11,856 - making £23,618 in total.

Here's the question: In a city of barely 300,000 citizens, do we really need 54 elected representatives in 21 wards - most of them, most likely, living in wards that they do not represent?

It's not a question of money. It's a question of democracy, in a city facing complex needs in difficult times.

Much bigger cities around the world have far fewer elected representatives; they are no less democratic - and no less prosperous.

Politicians of all parties have thought about these issues, but none has raised them on the doorstep. As we reveal today, Jason Kitcat believes fundamental change is needed; Labour sources have indicated they think a review might be timely.

Mr Kitcat - the former leader of the former Green administration - said: "In my experience, most councillors from all parties work hard to serve their citizens

"However, as city government becomes ever more complex and involved, I doubt that the current model of the part-timer ‘Scout leader’ councillors - as some ministers have characterised it - is adequate.

“A quick scan across the globe shows that English councillors are far more numerous than elsewhere, but significantly underpaid. The average Swedish councillor earns £66,000, whereas Europe’s largest council, Birmingham, pays its councillors a basic allowance of just £16,000.

"We have 54 councillors in Brighton and Hove for 280,000 citizens - whereas New York has 51 for their 8.5 million residents. Australia’s City of Sydney council has 200,000 residents served by 10 councillors. “

A spokesperson for Warren Morgan, leader of the Labour Group, said: "The position of the Labour Group is that any review of the number of councillors, wards, and boundaries should be undertaken by the Boundary Commission, an independent body.

"It should not be for politicians to determine the outcome that suits them best. Brighton and Hove has not had a review since 2001 so it would be appropriate to invite the Boundary Commission to do so in the near future."

Geoffrey Theobald, leader of the Conservative Group, was against change. He said: "When the last Boundary Commission review of seats in Brighton and Hove took place, the Conservatives proposed the move from 78 to 54 councillors, against the wishes of the then Labour administration, which wanted a higher number.

"However, I don’t think it would be appropriate to go any lower than 54 in a unitary authority that has a rapidly-growing population. You have to have a decent level of representation in order to have a fully-functioning democracy. I know from personal experience that even in a three-member ward, such as Patcham, we all get an enormous amount of correspondence and casework from residents either by phone, email, post, or at our regular ward surgeries.

"If you compare Brighton and Hove with other unitary authorities across the country, I think that our number of councillors, relative to the population they serve, is lower than many of the others.

He added: "I am also not in favour of ‘professionalising’ councillors. The role of councillors is to set the policy and strategic direction of the organisation, not to take day-to-day operational decisions. While being a leading member of an administration or opposition quite rightly takes up a large amount of time, if you made all councillors full-time and salaried, you would blur the line between councillors and officers and risk creating a whole new rank of career politicians with little or no experience of the world outside of local government."