Local government braced for delayed election costs

5 Apr 01
Local authorities are facing an administrative headache and a hefty bill after the government's decision to put back the local shire county elections and in all probability the general election to June 7.

06 April 2001

Home Secretary Jack Straw introduced emergency legislation in the House of Commons on April 2. At the same time, two Home Office circulars were sent out to council returning officers advising them to continue with preparations for elections without entering into any unnecessary commitments which could have financial implications.

The Local Government Association, which has been keeping in touch with councils by e-mail, said the delay was an inconvenience and pointed out that councils were split between those who accepted it and those who wanted elections postponed indefinitely until the foot and mouth epidemic was under control.

John Rees, assistant director of legal services, said: 'Councils are very good at dealing with issues at short notice. The problems they face involve arrangements made for polling stations, the printing of ballot papers and staffing arrangements.'

Rees said it was difficult to put an estimate on the costs facing councils but said a cautious figure could be £2m.

Many councils use schools as polling stations and could face difficulty rebooking during June when GCSE exams take place. Schools also face some problems as many of them have arranged training days for their staff for the original election date of May 3, when schools are technically now open again.

Welcoming the government's announcement of compensation, the LGA said the government had to ensure it met the full costs of the delay.

But the change has not been universally welcomed. Peter Chalke, deputy leader of the Conservative group on the LGA, was not impressed.

Chalke, who is leader of Wiltshire County Council, said: 'If it is wrong to campaign in April, it is wrong to campaign in May and if the prime minister wants to get people in the country to vote he should put back the election until October.'

Local authorities this week began cautiously to reopen paths and parklands in areas remote from foot and mouth outbreaks this week as there were signs that the epidemic might finally be on the wane.

LGA leaders met Tony Blair on April 3 to hear that the prime minister was 'frustrated' at the amount of countryside which remains out of bounds.

An LGA survey this week found some counties, including Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, planned to have 75% of their footpaths open by Easter.

However, Chalke remains concerned: 'It is vital that we stem the spread of foot and mouth, and campaigning will be very difficult for people in rural areas.'


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