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Council clash on "elections every four years"
6:20am Thursday 17th October 2013 in Echo News
COUNCIL elections may be held every four years to save £50,000 a year. Councillors will debate proposals tomorrow to elect all members together, rather than a third in three out of every four years.
The Government, Electoral Commission and Southend Council’s Tory administration back the idea, which would cut the cost of holding elections. However opposition councillors disagree, claiming it would reduce the democratic accountability of the council.
Council leader Nigel Holdcroft said: “Having elections three years out of four not only costs significant sums of money but also causes quite a bit of disruption. At times we seem to be fighting an eternal election campaign.
“Many policies need more than 12 months to implement and a period of extended stability would help the council function more effectively.”
Any change, unlikely to be introduced before 2015, would need the backing of two-thirds of the council at a special meeting after a 12-week public consultation.
But Mr Holdcroft, who is considering stepping down before next year’s council election, admitted too few councillors are likely to support the idea tomorrow (OCT17) for the consultation to be launched. The Electoral Commission has recommended all local authorities hold “whole-council” elections as they are easy for electors to understand.
All county councils and London boroughs and almost two thirds of unitary and second tier authorities already use them. Further savings could be made if local elections are held at the same time as European or Parliamentary ones as the Government will pay half the cost.
But the authority would need to aside £10,000 a year to cover the cost of by-elections as councillors would be more likely to step down or die between less frequent elections.
Mr Holdcroft said: “Many authorities have all up elections and I have seen no evidence of them being any less democratic or responsive to the concerns of voters.
“Any change would need a two thirds majority and I have said that if we don't achieve it at this first hurdle it is not worth spending the money on a more extended consultation.”
Opposition leaders have criticised whole-council elections as undemocratic.
The Independent group said whole-council elections would disconnect the public and make it harder to recruit potential candidates as they would have to wait longer to stand.
Spokesman Martin Terry also warned unelected council officers would have more power as the electorate would have less chance to influence policy by voting out councillors.
He said: “If some weird group happens to be flavour of the month due to a national crisis or some populist issue at the time of the election we could end up with a ‘Monster Raving Looney Council’.
At least electing in thirds we retain some experience and stability.”
Lib Dem leader Graham Longley said: “The most important thing about any election is its democratic process.
“If you start from that point it’s likely the population will get a better deal and will respond to what’s being done in their name over yearly elections.”
Labour leader Ian Gilbert said: “I’m going to make my mind up after listening to the debate. “I tend to feel that the amount of savings isn’t worth changing the electoral cycle.”
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