Proposals to cut the number of councillors for Durham have been described as a "pragmatic" measure to avoid the council being transformed from outside.

Durham County Council could be slimmed down from 126 councillors to 98 under proposals being drawn up for a review of local government boundaries.

The move is being suggested despite councillors saying they worked "well in excess of 16 hours a week" on their unpaid role and rarely took days off.

The Local Government Boundary Commission England (LGBCE) is to consider the number of councillors, as well as the names and boundaries of electoral divisions.

Read more: Durham County Council could lose dozens of councillors

A working group in the council has considered three options to submit a proposal to the LGBCE.

The options were to keep 126 councillors, reduce the number to 98 or lower it even further to 85.

The group recommended the option of 98 councillors, with 85 considered too small and maintaining the status quo at 126 unlikely to be acceptable to the commission.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo.

Council leader Councillor Amanda Hopgood said the review - the first in 10 years - offered an opportunity to reflect on how the council operates now and in future.

She said the working group knew the current demands on councillors' time: "It could therefore be argued that the number of councillors across County Durham should at least stay the same, if not increase.

"However, the group acknowledge that maintaining the status quo, or increasing the number of councillors, is likely to be unacceptable to the Boundary Commission.

"The council is now an outlier in terms of the number of councillors and recent reviews of similar authorities have resulted in recommendations on council sizes of less than 100 councillors.

Read more: Durham County Council - Councillors to discuss new election boundaries

"The group consider that it is better for the council to seek to influence and shape the proposals in respect of County Durham rather than have arrangements simply imposed.

"The draft proposal, therefore, represents a pragmatic approach which seeks to balance the aims of the review against the needs of the residents of County Durham."

She said the Boundary Commission's review tried to tackle an imbalance in 20 of the county's 63 electoral divisions.

She urged councillors and parties to propose their own ideas, saying: "In seeking to agree a consensus, the group have had to compromise.

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"Therefore I would encourage individual political groups and/or councillors to engage with the process and submit their own proposals to the commission.

"The group will continue to work with officers to finalise the response."

Deputy leader Cllr Richard Bell supported the approach, saying the working group wanted to avoid "democratic deficit", and encouraged council members to "engage with and help shape the process".

The Northern Echo: Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott. (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

Helen Lynch, the council's head of legal and democratic services, said: "It's important that the council seeks to agree a realistic submission which informs its future rather than have an arbitrary figure imposed by the Boundary Commission."

She said the draft submission tried to reflect the nature, geography, demographics and needs of the council and county.

A proposal needs to be submitted by October 4 and the Boundary Commission will give its recommendation in mid to late November.

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