Whitley Pump uncovers…the numbers don’t stack up!

Reading Borough Council

In March, Whitley Pump reported that Katesgrove voter registration numbers were down. We have since discovered that information given to councillors in the electoral registration and elections update report on 14 March 2016 about average ward sizes contained errors.

Up on Katesgrove Hill, correspondents dusted off their calculators, mobile phone apps and  Excel spreadsheets in a bid to reproduce the average ward sizes that were quoted in the report. Unable to replicate the result, we wrote to Chris Brooks, the Head of Legal and Democratic Services for Reading Borough Council. After five days when he had not replied, a complaint was lodged with Reading Borough Council using the online complaints and comments form.

Within the last few days, Chris Brooks has written to say that the quoted average ward size of 6,817 for a three member ward and 2,419 for a one member ward, was wrong.

He said:

Like you, I could not work out how it had been calculated when I read through the report prior to presenting it to the committee.

He provided corrected averages and explained how the calculation should have been done [see References].

average ward size
Originally stated
average ward size
One member ward 2,223  2,419  196
Three member ward 6,669  6,817  148

All the statistics used above are from the 1 December 2015 electoral register. Voter registrations are not static and the number of electors has increased between then and the 18 April 2016 deadline for registrations for the May elections.

Why this is important

Electoral equality requires that each councillor represents approximately the same number of electors. Average ward size is a statistic used to manage this aspect of the democratic process. Voter numbers in each ward vary over time for a variety of reasons. In Reading, voter numbers have been adversely affected by Individual Elector Registration (IER), particularly in areas where there are large student populations. New residential areas, such as Kennet Island, can also cause an imbalance voter numbers between wards over time.

The Local Government Boundary Commission (LGBCE) is responsible for reviewing ward boundaries. If the size of ward is outside a certain percentage more or less of the average, then a review of ward boundaries could be triggered. This tolerance range was quoted as + or -5% of the average in the electoral registration and elections update report. Eight of Reading’s 16 wards were outside this tolerance, using the originally stated average ward sizes.

But, Chris Brooks has informed us that this was another error; the correct tolerance is not + or -5% but + or -10%. He said :

On this basis, and using the correct average ward figures given above, at 1 December 2015, 11 of Reading’s 16 wards were within this tolerance range, and five were outside. These five included Katesgrove which with an electorate of 5,921, was 748 below the Borough average, or -11.2%.

Therefore, not 50% but only 31% of wards were outside the tolerance, but a ward boundary review could still be triggered. One of the criteria for a review of ward boundaries is where more than 30% of wards are outside the tolerance set. Electoral Reviews are carried out by LGBCE as part of Periodic Electoral Reviews (PER) or…

… when the electoral variances in representation across a local authority become notable, an electoral review is required. Our criteria for initiating a review in those circumstances are as follows:

  • more than 30% of a council’s wards/divisions having an electoral imbalance of more than 10% from the average ratio for that authority; and/or
  • one or more wards/divisions with an electoral imbalance of more than 30%; and
  • the imbalance is unlikely to be corrected by foreseeable changes to the electorate within a reasonable period.

The Whitley Pump has obtained voter numbers from the 1 April register; this has increased to 104,121 (from 102,255 on 1 December 2015), but five Reading wards, or 31%, were still outside the 10% tolerance range of average ward sizes. These wards were Abbey (14.2%), Church (-13%), Park (-10.6%), Redlands (-25.9%) and Whitley (+16.2%). Katesgrove is now within tolerance.

Will Reading’s ward boundaries be reviewed?

Although based on incorrect information, Councillor Hopper asked this question:

… the Local Government Boundary Commission advises that wards should be within + or -5%, and we are now in the position with these changes that half of the wards in Reading are outside of that + or -5% and some of them … are significantly outside of that. It does mention that that will be taken into account when the polling district reviews are carried out. I wonder if Mr Brooks could answer whether the polling district reviews could lead to ward boundary reviews at the same time?

Mr Brooks answered:

Yes, it could lead to ward boundary reviews, but this is very much driven by the Boundary Commission as to whether they instigate a review…

What would a ward boundary review mean?

The Local Government Boundary Commission (LGBCE) last looked at Reading in 2002, and they recommended an increase in the number of councillors from 45 to 46 and an increase in wards from 15 to 16. The additional ward was Mapledurham with one councillor. There were also boundary changes to other wards so that, using 2001 electorate figures, no wards would have a variance of more than +  or – 10% from the ward size average.

Polling Place and Polling District reviews are carried out by local authorities according to Electoral Commission guidance. The last review was carried out in 2014 and the next is due in 2018. Katesgrove has three polling districts.

Whitley Pump opinion

That such an error in relation to the management of the electoral process survives preparation, review, presentation to councillors, discussion by and questions from councillors is shocking.


  1. Electoral Registration and Elections Update – Policy Committee 14 March 2016
  2. Policy Committee 14 March 2016 – all papers
  3. Policy Committee 14 March 2016 – webcast
  4. LGBCE – An electoral review of Reading Unitary Authority (UA) started on 12 June 2001 
  5. LGBCE – Electoral Reviews Technical Guidance
  6. Electoral Commission  – Guidance on Polling District Reviews
  7. Reading Borough Council online complaints and comments form.
Reference: How to calculate average ward size

The variables:

  • 46 councillors
  • 16 wards
  • 15 three member wards
  • 1 one member ward (Mapledurham)
  • 102,255 electors on the register (as at 1 December 2015)

The calculation:
Divide the number of electors by the number of councillors: 102,255 / 46
Result: 2,223

This is the average number of electors per councillor and the average ward size for a one member ward.

The average ward size for a three member ward is three times this 2,223 x 3
Result: 6,669