The Monitoring Officer introduced the report to Members highlighting the following key points:
• The Council’s capability to change its electoral cycle and opt for whole-council elections (an election which is held every four years and all Councillors were to be elected), rather than the current method of elections by thirds (elections were held three years out of every four and one third of the Councillors were to be elected on each occasion).
• The estimated cost of holding local elections in the same time period under a whole-council system would be in the region of £350,000, an estimated saving of £190,000.
• If the Council did seek to change its electoral cycle and move to whole-council elections, the earliest opportunity for these to be held would be in May 2017. In order to do this, the Council must pass a resolution to do so before 31 December 2016.
Councillor Liddiard and Councillor Kerin highlighted that whole-council elections may discourage residents from electing individual candidates that have built a strong working relationship with their ward. The Chair of the Committee questioned what ballot papers would look like in whole-council elections. The Electoral Services Manager enlightened the Committee that residents would vote for two or three candidates per ward (depending on the ward). Each party would then put up a number of candidates, although the maximum number of candidates for each ward would be 1-3 candidates for each party (Labour, Conservative, and UKIP) plus any other party and independent candidates. The ballot paper would potentially have 9 or more candidates, voters would then choose 2-3 candidates when marking their ballot paper. Councillor Snell felt that the various different options would prove challenging and confusing for some residents. The Chair of the Committee I recalled the argument from the Oct 2014 motion, where some councillors felt that four yearly elections were argued as being something which disenfranchises local people, and I disagreed with the point for the following reasons:
- Ballot papers have a selection of candidates to choose from and have a selection of parties to choose from.
- Effectively, instead of one vote for one person / party, the electorate have two votes for two different people/parties. This effectively means that there are no changes to how enfranchised an elector is.
The Chair of the Committee highlighted that there were 9 overall local elections when electing by thirds and 7 overall local elections when electing by whole-council.
Councillor Stewart and Councillor Snell shared the view that whole-council elections would provide stability for Councillors and Officers and also allow progressive work as Councillors would not be pre occupied with campaigning. Councillor Liddiard felt that there had been 7 years of stable politics in Thurrock Council.
The Director of Corporate Finance informed the Committee that whole-council elections would facilitate an overall saving although the total saving would depend on when the change is scheduled to commence and the funding of Parliamentary elections. The Committee were informed that whole elections being held in 2017 and 2021 would be funded in full by the local authority, as there were no scheduled Parliamentary elections. Councillor Snell and the Chair of the Committee felt that a whole-council election would be cost effective if held in 2018.
The Chair of the Committee favoured whole-council elections for their consistency. It was also felt that the defined date of elections would create greater publicity which may return higher turnouts. The Chair of the Committee felt that a 4 year cycle would lead to stability with the administration, and would enable delivery of their manifestos. It was felt that the current model did not offer that opportunity. The Chair of the Committee highlighted how the existing model allowed a weighty majority-sized administration to have its majority eroded over three years, having lost the support of local people as they vote for other parties, and yet the administration continues to hold onto power. The Chair of the Committee felt that the people should decide the make-up of the council, not the councillors themselves juggling numbers about to see who could or could not form an administration it was added that this was undemocratic.
The Committee felt that all stakeholders and communities were entitled to have a say on any change to the current electoral system.
Councillor Kerin questioned if the motion lost by the Chair of the Committee at Full Council on 22 October 2014 regarding investigation and implementation of whole-council elections would affect future decision making. The Monitoring Officer confirmed that the lost motion would not affect any future decisions.
Members discussed reviewing ward boundaries. The Monitoring Officer informed members that the electoral arrangements of every principal local authority in England must by law, be reviewed from time to time. These reviews were known as periodic electoral reviews (PERs). The last round of PERs commenced in 1996 and was completed in 2004. The Commission was currently not undertaking PERs but had a rolling programme of electoral reviews undertaken for a number of different reasons. It was explained further that the Commission undertake electoral reviews when the electoral variances in representation across a local authority become notable and Thurrock Council did not appear to meet this criteria. The Committee understood that the Council were not subject to a review and agreed no further action.
In relation to recommendation 1.1, 3 Members voted in favour and 2 voted against, whereupon the chair declared the recommendation to be carried.
1. Members recommended that Full Council consult further with the communities in Thurrock and potential changes to the electoral cycle of the council which could involve a move to whole-council elections every four years, rather than electing by thirds.
2. Members supported the Officers report by noting that the data does not suggest the tests to instigate a boundary review have been met, and agreed not to pursue this further at this time.