ST HELENS COUNCIL: Reactions to local elections going ahead in May
POLITICAL leaders on St Helens Borough Council have given their thoughts on the government’s decision to press ahead with the local elections in May.
Boris Johnson suspended the 2020 local government elections for 12 months following guidance from the Electoral Commission.
There had been some uncertainty over whether they would still go ahead as planned this May, given the perilous situation found across the country.
But last Friday the government announced that local elections, which will include mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections, scheduled for May 6, 2021, will go ahead as planned.
Politically, a big concern is the impact the pandemic will have on campaigning, with parties having to shift to online campaigns as opposed to traditional door-to-door canvassing.
From the local authority’s perspective, delivering the elections also poses some extremely difficult challenges from a safety perspective.
The government has published a Delivery Plan setting out how the polls will be delivered in a Covid-19 secure and effective way.
This sets out how the government will address public health and social distancing; nominations and campaigning; voting; and the delivery of elections.
The government is giving councils an extra £31 million for plastic screens, hand sanitiser and social distancing markers at polling stations.
Voters will also be asked to bring their own pens or pencils to fill in their ballot papers.
Changes will be made to proxy voting rules so that those affected by Covid-19 can still vote.
Voters can request a postal vote in advance of polling day, although an all-postal ballot has been ruled out due to fears of fraud.
So what do the parties think about the decision to press ahead with the May 2021 local elections?
Cllr David Baines, leader of St Helens Borough Council and the Labour group, said: “For some time already council staff have been working incredibly hard to prepare for the elections.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to place extra pressure on them at an already stressful time, but as a council we’ll do all we can to make sure the elections are held as safely as possible.
“As leader of the Labour group I’m looking forward to the election. I’m proud of the progress we’re driving at the council.
“I’d encourage people to register for a postal vote so that you can take part in the elections safely and vote early.
“And I’d also encourage everyone to visit http://sthelenslabour.org to keep up to date with Labour’s work and view our record for themselves.”
Cllr Allan Jones, leader of St Helens Conservative group, said: “I’m very disappointed we won’t be allowed to do any canvassing or leafletting.
“I think it’s a tight decision, although to it will give the opportunity of the people of St Helens to remove certain Labour councillors.
“A decision has been made. I can’t see it being overturned so we will see what happens. Time alone will tell what happens.
“The people of St Helens will be able to have their say.”
Cllr James Tasker, leader of the Independents, said: “These local elections, although under difficult circumstances, are a great opportunity for people who want to see our town and our communities improve.
“We need less politics and hidden agendas, and more passion from people truly representing us.
“I’d encourage everyone to register for a postal vote, whilst continuing to stay safe.”
Cllr David O’Keefe, leader of the Green Party, said: “I’m relieved the local elections are taking place.
“I am relieved, but I am also concerned that the government is putting pressure on parties not to leaflet or campaign which puts the smaller parties with smaller budgets at a disadvantage.
“There’s a number of logistical difficulties for the council to ensure that polling booths are secure for the workers, who will be in there from about 7 o’clock in the morning to about 10 o’clock at night.
“While I am pleased that it is going ahead there is an expectation that even with the additional funding to make the polling booths safe, even with the reduced number of nominations we need to seek for candidates, we might still have to postpone it ‘til the summer.
“But it doesn’t make logistical sense to me when a newly-elected candidate will be up for re-election in just under year in the all-out election in 2022.”
Words: Kenny Lomas, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV