The LGA has highlighted to MPs safety issues and the extra costs of running ballots during the pandemic.
The Government has confirmed that an unprecedented round of local council and mayoral elections will go ahead this spring. After last year’s postponement because of COVID-19, everyone in England will have a ballot of some kind on 6 May, with many places holding multiple ballots.
The LGA continues to work with councils and government to raise the key challenges local areas face as they strive to ensure the ballot and subsequent counts are COVID-19 secure. These include recruiting sufficient staff, booking appropriate venues and procuring equipment. As part of that, LGA Chairman Cllr James Jamieson provided evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
Cllr Jamieson highlighted that councils are working hard to deliver this unique set of elections safely. However, he stressed that work is needed to implement vital extra measures to ensure everyone’s safe involvement, which means the level of extra government financial support will need to be kept under review as costs become clear. The Government has committed to providing £15 million so far.
“What happens if somebody turns up to vote and they don’t have a face mask?”
He said: “The resources issue is really important because we’re not going to see a normal election and it won’t be a village hall with two polling clerks in it. What happens if somebody turns up to vote and they don’t have a face mask, never mind a pencil? We may have fewer people volunteering because a lot of the people who volunteer are older and they may feel less secure about doing it.”
Cllr Jamieson also stressed to MPs on the committee just how vital it is that candidates have the ability to run campaigns so residents can make informed decisions about who they want to represent them. He said: “That local element – the ability to send out leaflets – is completely missing. I have certainly had questions about why it is that the pizza shop can put a leaflet through someone’s door, but the local councillor can’t.”
MPs also heard of other areas of concern regarding the coronavirus regulations and electoral law, including what the expectation is if someone who should be self-isolating attends a polling station or a non-exempt person refuses to wear a mask. The requirement for newly elected members to be signed into office by the end of the fourth day was also asked to be relaxed.
The committee will be making recommendations to the Government about the local elections and we hope that many of the points the LGA has been making will influence it. We continue to work with government and councils to ensure adequate support and guidance is available. As part of last month’s roadmap announcement, the Government confirmed that, from 8 March, broader campaigning activity would be permitted, and specific guidance was published as first was going to press.