Saturday, March 2, 2024

Covid-19: Local elections to go ahead in England (but don’t forget your pen!)

LOCAL elections in England will go ahead as planned in May, government sources say.

Doubts had been raised about whether it was possible to hold the ballots during the pandemic, but council, mayoral, and police and crime commissioner elections will take place.

There will be some safety measures, with voters asked to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballots.

In all, £70m will be made available to make polling stations Covid-secure.

Masks will be compulsory in polling stations and there will be divider screens and sanitisers.

Ministers had previously said the local elections for England, scheduled for 6 May, were under review amid uncertainty about lockdown restrictions.

Some in local government responsible for administering them have been calling for a delay because of concerns about cost and social distancing.

Questions have been raised about whether enough suitable venues can be booked at a time when many are being used as vaccine centres. 

There are worries too about whether enough staff will be found to ensure elections can proceed smoothly.

Some local and mayoral elections had been due to take place in 2020 but were postponed due to the pandemic.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith told MPs in January that the bar for delaying them again was “quite high” and that elections were the “cornerstone of democracy”.

But Councillor John Fuller, Conservative leader of South Norfolk Council and chairman of the District Councils Network, said a delay would have been the best option.

“It would have been better to have a poll conducted when everyone was vaccinated rather than a campaign started in lockdown, but we’ll all pull together to make this work,” he said.

He added that going ahead with elections in May would be “challenging,” but said he was “relieved” that the need for extra costs had been recognised by the government. 

Ministers are expected to published a “detailed plan” to help local authorities, parties and candidates and to make £70m in additional funding available to make the process Covid-secure. 


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