Calls for clarity over whether May elections in Northamptonshire will go ahead
Written by Martin Steers on January 7, 2021
A local council leader is calling for clarity on whether May elections will continue in Northampton – with new information appearing to conflict guarantees he had had only hours before.
Councillor Ian McCord, the leader of the West Northamptonshire shadow council, told members of his executive committee last night (January 5) that the Thursday May 6 date would remain unaltered despite a third lockdown being confirmed earlier this week by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In some parts of the county, such as Northampton, council elections have not been held since 2015. Votes have been postponed for two consecutive years in the county, the first due to the impending reorganisation of local government in 2019 [which has since been delayed until April 1 this year] and then cancelled again due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Speaking last night at a shadow executive meeting online, Councillor McCord – who is also the existing leader of South Northamptonshire Council – said: “I had a call earlier today where it was asked if there were any doubts about elections, and the minister I spoke with was very clear that there were no plans at all to change elections and they will still be carrying on for May. That was confirmed in a ministerial call earlier, so at least that gives us a bit of clarity that there are no plans whatsoever to change the date.”
However, those comments appeared to already be out of date only hours later after the Prime Minister said this afternoon that the date would be kept ‘under review’, with the BBC reporting that local leaders in Manchester had discussed the possibility of delaying the elections until June, or possibly even the autumn.
And this afternoon, the County Councils Network officially called on the Government to provide urgent clarity on the local elections scheduled for May, and for a swift decision on whether they will take place in the spring.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service this afternoon, Councillor McCord also backed that call, but said he did not want to see ‘the undemocratic elastic in this county stretched any thinner’.
He said: “We just need clarity now. If it’s going to be in May then we should crack on, but if it’s not then call it early. My concern is we end up with another situation where they hold off when it could have been called earlier.”
Speaking about the call with ministers he had had the day before, the Conservative councillor said they were ‘adament’ the elections would be held in May.
He said: “They were telling us they had made provisions within the rules to allow you to exercise your vote and go to a polling station. They might have been wrong, but they were certainly not in doubt.”
Legislation enabling the lockdown runs until March 31, just over a month before the planned the vote, but the Government hopes to start easing lockdown in mid-February, by which time it hopes to have vaccinated 13 million ‘at risk’ people. It is expected that lockdowns will be ended on a regional basis back into the four existing tiers.
Although the introduction and rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines is expected to help bring back a semblance of normality, it remains to be seen whether the UK will see a large increase in ballots being cast in the post, as was the case in the recent Presidential election in the USA.
In South Northamptonshire, Daventry and Northampton, residents will be voting for candidates for the new West Northamptonshire unitary council – which will replace the existing district and borough councils, as well as the county council, on April 1.
Meanwhile a second unitary known as North Northamptonshire will replace the councils in Wellingborough, Kettering, East Northamptonshire and Corby.
Existing councillors for all those authorities are currently sitting on two shadow councils which are effectively setting things up for the go live date, and they will continue to sit as councillors for the first month of the new councils’ existence.
By James Averill – Local Democracy Reporter