LOCAL ELECTIONS: Somerset County Council elections update
Local elections are still set to go ahead in Somerset this May despite requests for a delay from the county council.
Voters are currently due to go to the polls on May 6 to elect a new Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner, whose election was delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Somerset County Council wrote to the government in November 2020 requesting that its next elections – due to be held on the same day – be postponed pending a decision on proposals for one or two new unitary authorities in Somerset.
But nearly three months on the government has not replied to this request – meaning that preparations to hold the county council elections will continue as planned.
An update on the elections preparation came before a virtual meeting of the council’s constitution and standards committee on Friday morning (February 5).
Scott Wooldridge, the council’s monitoring officer, said in his written report: “There are scheduled county council elections in May 2021 and preparations continue for these to ensure that legal requirements and met and the democratic processes are effectively supported.
“At the time of writing, a number of councils have requested that the government consider deferring the scheduled elections until later in 2021 in view of the covid-19 pandemic.
“In addition, the council has requested a deferral of the elections until May 2022 in view of the submission of a business case for local government reorganisation in Somerset.
“As yet no decision has been taken by the government regarding any deferral of the scheduled elections, and therefore preparations are continuing.”
Mr Wooldridge said the formal notice of both elections would be published on March 26 – meaning the government would have to make its mind up on any delay or postponement within the next six weeks.
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said no final decision had been made on postponing the 2021 elections due to the unitary proposals currently being considered.
A spokesman said: “We’re considering the request by Somerset County Council to postpone the county council elections – set to take place in May 2021 – due to the unitary proposals currently being reviewed.”
The government said communities secretary Robert Jenrick MP was “carefully considering” the council’s request to delay the elections, noting that there was “precedent for postponing local elections in areas where local government reorganisation is being considered.”
Chloe Smith MP, minister for the constitution and devolution, stated on January 13 that local elections both planned for May 2021 and those delayed from 2020 – including the police and crime commissioner elections in Somerset – would go ahead.
Speaking in the House of Commons, she said: “Safe and secure elections are the cornerstone of any democracy, and parliament’s decision, as set out in primary legislation, is that these polls should go ahead in May.
“Due to the pandemic, many of these elections have already been delayed by a year, but voters have a right to be heard and to decide who governs them.
“During the pandemic, local authorities will have taken many serious decisions impacting directly on residents, on matters from council tax to road closures, and those are important issues on which elected representatives should be held to account.
“Given the situation, however, we are keeping this position under review. Any change would require very careful consideration, and would need to be based on robust evidence. There should be a high bar for any delay.”
Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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