Decision Maker: Council
Decision status: For Determination
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
To consider MHCLG's request that Councils
submitting a proposal for reorganisation consider whether they wish
the local elections scheduled for May 2021 to be
Councillor Giles Archibald, Leader and Promoting South Lakeland Portfolio Holder, presented a report asking Council to consider whether it wished to seek postponement of local elections in May 2021 on account of proposals for local government reorganisation and in response to a request from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Council, having approved the submission of a full proposal for local government reorganisation at C/71 above, the decision of the Council with regard to the local elections would be conveyed to MHCLG on 9 December 2020.
The report suggested that a postponement of elections would place at risk: the need for certainty to plan for elections at a time when Covid-19 may still exist; a need to refresh councillors, several of whom may be retiring; and the opportunity to give residents the chance to vote in the full knowledge of the plans afoot for reorganisation. The report further suggested that, from a procedural point, there did not appear to be justification to postpone local elections on account of the proposals being put forward. It was pointed out, however, that the timing of any consultation and issue of purdah was wholly within the decision of MHCLG and that they should be advised of the need to consider timing in this regard.
Councillor Archibald drew attention to approval in the previous item for the proposal for a Bay Unitary Authority and explained that elections to the new authority would not take place until 2023. It was felt, therefore, that there was not a need to ask for any delay in the 2021 elections, as councillors elected in 2021 would serve for a period of two years.
Councillor Archibald having moved the recommendations within the report was seconded by Councillor Dyan Jones.
Concerns were raised with regard to the cost implications of full elections, to safety for voters in the light of Covid-19, as well as to those involved in political campaigning and the delivery of leaflets, and to the imminence of reorganisation. A particularly strong concern was raised at the holding of elections in May 2021, reference being made to the sacrifices being made by NHS workers, and it being stressed that this would be irresponsible during a pandemic and that it would not be until at least June before there was any sign of normality.
A number of comments were raised. It was suggested that, should the elections go ahead, they should be carried out through all-out postal votes, thereby allowing residents to engage safely, with attention being drawn to the fact that not everyone would have been vaccinated against Covid-19 by May 2021. A pressing need for all-out postal votes was stressed and the fact that it was in the Council’s gift to make comment within its response to MHCLG to ask for consideration to be given to this or to some other safe method of voting. Another suggestion was that more postal votes should be encouraged but that this should not be enforced, with some residents seeing it as their civic duty to attend a polling station to cast their vote. Attention was drawn to the fact that both the Cumbria County Council Conservative Group Leader and Labour Group Leader had asked for the elections to be cancelled but that the Cumbria County Council Liberal Democrat Group’s desire was for the elections to proceed. It was raised that the extra costs involved in holding elections would be minimal, as it was believed that the Police and Crime Commissioner elections were scheduled to take place in any case.
A majority spoke in favour of pressing ahead with elections due to the fact that there were vacancies on the Council, Members feeling that it would not be democratic to put them off due to local government re-organisation or Covid-19. It was, furthermore, pointed out that the question being asked was whether the Council wished to hold elections in May 2021 due to local government re-organisation and not due to Covid.
The Legal, Governance and Democracy Lead Specialist (Monitoring Officer), during discussion, explained that the issue of all out postal voting was beyond the Council’s control and reminded Members that the Council was being specifically asked to comment on the holding of elections as part of the proposal for reform. She added that, the decision on whether to hold elections was down to Government and that, if the elections were to proceed, guidance on safe voting was also expected.
Councillor Archibald reiterated the fact that the Council was being asked if want to delay the elections due to reorganisation. In response to a query raised during discussion, he informed Members that the Police and Crime Commissioner elections were currently scheduled to be held in May 2021, and that these would go ahead unless the Government decided to delay for a month or so in the light of Covid-19. Councillor Archibald acknowledged the validity of the points raised around the need to ensure that people could vote safety though the maximisation of postal voting. He suggested that this could be considered at a future meeting, potentially through an appropriate motion. Today’s question, he said, was different, and he asked Members to support the proposal.
A vote on the proposal was taken by roll call and it was
RESOLVED – That
(1) Council expresses a preference at this stage:-
(a) not to request a postponement of local elections (By Elections/Local and Town and Parish) in May 2021 on account of proposals for local government reorganisation;
(b) specifically, that South Lakeland’s District Elections and By Elections, together with By Elections for town/parishes be excepted from any cancellation of elections under any future Structural Changes Order; and
(c) that the County Council elections proceed in May 2021; and
(2) MHCLG be advised of the need to consider the timing of any future consultation on proposals and conflict with purdah restrictions and to exercise their powers with regard to the holding of local elections accordingly.
Report author: David Sykes
Publication date: 11/02/2021
Date of decision: 08/12/2020
Decided at meeting: 08/12/2020 - Council