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West Midlands to lose six MPs in boundaries shake-up

Officials launch two-year review to decide how constituencies should change.

MPs (from left)Shabana Mahmood, Khalid Mahmood, Liam Byrne, Jack Dromey and Gisela Stuart
Birmingham MPs (from left) Shabana Mahmood, Khalid Mahmood, Liam Byrne, Jack Dromey and Gisela Stuart

The West Midlands is to lose six MPs under fresh proposals to redraw Parliamentary boundaries.

A review has been launched by the Boundary Commission for England which says the number of constituencies in the region must fall from 59 to 53.

This covers the wider West Midlands region, including Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Herefordshire as well as Birmingham, the Black Country, Solihull and Coventry.

There are no details yet about how specific constituencies will change - and it will take two and a half years before firm decisions are made.

But the boundary review could lead to a re-run of the last review, when sitting MPs were faced with the prospect of battling each other for the right to be selected as a candidate in the remaining seats.

It’s part of a nationwide move to cut the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600.

Plans to reduce the number of seats were previously put forward in 2013, when the Boundary Commission said there should be five fewer constituencies in the region.

The proposals were abandoned after they were blocked by Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in the Coalition government at the time, in retaliation for Conservatives refusing to support reform of the House of Lords.

As a result, the Boundary Commission has to start its work over again.

And this time, it has ruled that the number of West Midlands constituencies should be reduced by six, based on the latest figures for the number of registered voters in the region.

Last time around, the Boundary Commission decided that number of MPs in Birmingham would be cut from ten to nine.

It meant changes to a number of city seats, but in most cases it was still clear which planned new constituency could be considered the natural successor to an existing seat.

The exceptions were Hodge Hill and Ladywood, where the sitting Labour MPs - Liam Byrne and Shabana Mahmood - faced the prospect of a bruising battle for the right to stand as a Labour candidate in the one remaining constituency.

The previous review also recommended that some Parliamentary constituencies should cross local authority boundaries.

Residents in the Birmingham ward of Sheldon were set to be represented by the MP for Solihull, while the Birmingham ward of Soho was due to become part of the Black Country seat of Smethwick.

Old Warley – a ward in the Black Country – was due to become part of the new Birmingham Harborne seat.

The Boundary Commission is starting with a blank sheet of paper so there’s no reason to assume it will propose exactly the same changes this time.

But whatever it comes up with is likely to be equally controversial simply because it's hard to match constituency boundaries to local authority borders while ensuring each constituency has the right number of voters.

Official figures for the calculations have shown a slump in electoral rolls, especially among young voters and in poorer areas, which critics blame partly on a Government move to accelerate the switch to a new registration system.

The total UK electorate has been announced by the Office for National Statistics to be 44,722,004, which means the number of electors in each mainland English constituency must be no less than 71,031 and no more than 78,507.

England will therefore have 501 constituencies, 32 fewer than there are currently.

The Boundary Commission will now begin work on its initial proposals for new boundaries, which are expected to be published in September 2016. The publication of those proposals will begin a 12­ week consultation period, during which the Boundary Commission will invite comments on the proposals.

Officials from the Boundary Commission will also be travelling across England in the autumn to hear from people in person.

It will make its final recommendations to Parliament in 2018.

Sam Hartley, Secretary to the Boundary Commission for England said: “Today marks the start of our work to review the constituency boundaries in England. Parliament has set us strict rules on reducing the number of constituencies and bringing greater equality of electorate size between the new constituencies. These new rules mean that there is likely to be a large degree of change across the country.

“Once we publish our initial proposals in the autumn, we will need the help of residents in all regions to ensure that our proposals take account of local ties and best reflect the geography on the ground. Everyone’s views will help us recommend a well­-considered and practical set of constituency boundaries in England.”

More information is available on the Boundary Commission’s website.

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