Council panel members vote ‘NO’ to whole council elections

Colchester Town Hall

COLCHESTER: Councillors at a meeting of the Policy and Public Initiatives Panel voted against proposals to change the way residents in the borough vote.

It is understood the earliest possible opportunity for switching to whole council elections would have been in 2019 or 2020.

Proposed savings of £430,000 were announced in a report by Council Officers at last Wednesday’s meeting (1st August) with the potential to save even more should elections be combined with the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner election.

As a consequence of the Borough Council moving to whole council elections, legislation would mean all 29 Town, Parish and Community Councils in the Borough would also move to the same electoral cycle.

‘Stark figures’

Cllr. Dave Harris (Lab), Berechurch ward spoke in favour of whole council elections, saying: “I know that most councillors will engage with their electorate every year whether there is an election or not.

“These stark figures of £210,000, rising with inflation – it’s a lot of a decision to make. Grants are to be reduced to the council. Do we want yearly elections or do we want to save services? I am not in the game to cut services for the most vulnerable in the town.”

A move in favour to whole council elections was mirrored by opposition leader, Cllr. Darius Laws (Con). He said: “It is very helpful to see in black and white the costs of our election process.

“This is a critical discussion we need to have. This isn’t about when to do this, this is about the figures, saving the public money. I believe the public would be enthusiastic.

“Going out canvassing every year also doesn’t foster a friendly environment amongst councillors. Braver decisions could be taken without being challenged 9 months later.

“We are now much more accessible and through social media it’s very clear we are out there being reactive to resident concerns. That keeps us on our toes.”

However, not everyone on the panel was in favour of moving to whole council elections.

Cllr. Lesley Scott-Boutell (Lib), Stanway ward councillor said some things don’t have a price, adding: “If somebody said to me would you like £420,000 I would say ‘yes please that’s very nice’. I could think of 120 thousand things I could spend that on.

“But I like the fact elections by thirds is more likely to be influenced by local rather than national events. I like that it encourages people into the habit of voting and that is what people here know.”

Turnout in at the last whole council elections in 2016 was at 36 per cent vs 33 per cent in elections by thirds earlier this year.

In the 2012 council elections the national average turnout was 31 per cent, according to the BBC.

‘Less disruptive’

A move to whole council elections would mean all 259 Town, Parish and Community Council seats would be up for election in addition to the 51 Borough Council seats.

Council officials have suggested voting by thirds encourages people into the habit of
voting and the current system of voting for one person is well understood by voters.

Councils who employ whole council elections are reported to benefit from greater public turnout on election day and cost savings across the borough for the Council and political parties as well as less being disruptive to public buildings and schools which are commonly used as polling stations.

The cost of the 2018 Borough Council Elections has been reported as £210,000. This figure includes hire of premises, staffing and printing costs.

In 2010, the council undertook an 8 week consultation process on this same issue and received 89 responses, of which 63 per cent were in favour of retaining elections by thirds.

A special Full Council meeting was convened in October 2010 for the purpose of deciding whether to move to whole council elections. The voting was 28 for, 26 against and 4 abstentions. As the required two thirds majority was not achieved the proposal was not approved.