Letter to Editor: Large savings to the taxpayers if we have local elections every four years

Politics / Thu 27th Jul 2023 at 08:12am

Dear Editor,

OVER 70% of councils in England have one election every four years to decide who runs the council. Harlow is in a minority.

In Harlow, we do this every year with one-third of councillors elected each year. This not only costs nearly £100k per year that could be far better invested in services, but it also means there is no real time for the election winners to make meaningful changes: there is constant uncertainty; and over a four-year period, nearly one whole year is lost to elections – time that should be spent improving the town. 

So to bring Harlow in line with the large majority of councils and to ensure the council is spending its time and residents’ money on what matters most to Harlow and not on political infighting, we are proposing a move to whole council elections every four years and here’s why:

1. It would save nearly £100k a year.

If we do move to all-up elections every four years, we will guarantee that this £100k per year is ring-fenced for services and facilities for Harlow’s young people. 

2It would ensure that the council spends all of its time for four years making Harlow a better place, not on political fighting and elections. 

3It would provide real time to make a difference for the council administration. 

Currently, whoever wins the election each May has just a matter of months to make any changes before they are back to an election campaign. This does not make for sound administration and is detrimental to our residents.

4. Your vote really would matter.

Your vote would decide who runs the council for four years, at the moment, often your vote may not change who runs the council for a number of years. Falling turnout at annual local elections (25-30%) is testimony to voter fatigue and frustration. 

Do you want to have a system where your vote matters more, where the council really does make a change and over £100k per year more is spent on facilities and services for young people in Harlow? Or do you want continuous political infighting and hundreds of thousands £ wasted on elections every year?

Have your say now about moving to whole council elections every four years: https://selfserve.harlow.gov.uk/en/service/Electoral_cycle_consultation

Kind regards, 

Cllr James Leppard

Cabinet Member for Finance and Governance, Harlow Council

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23 Comments for Letter to Editor: Large savings to the taxpayers if we have local elections every four years:

David Forman
2023-07-27 08:41:46

In the original council debate on moving to 4 year elections, council leader Dan Swords made two interesting points: 1. that the best part of two months of council business is lost to purdah; 2. The cost per annum is £95,000. Less purdah means more council meetings and more opportunities to ask awkward and long questions of our council leaders.

David Forman
2023-07-27 08:43:08

A link to the YourHarlow video of the original council debate: https://youtu.be/VMziBUxLnyI

2023-07-27 08:46:01

A few points If politicians want this, it is not good for us what is to stop you introducing say 15 minute zones and then us having to wait 4 years to vote you out? My vote mattered it matters even more when it is frequent as it means any poor governance, has a faster repercussion for the political party involved 100K is not a lot of money (to most people it is) but for a large organisation like Harlow Council it is not. There are better ways of saving 100K. If you think it would stop political in fighting your sadly mistaken labour and cons bicker like children, cons in Harlow have just had an internal coup like at the national level. The last thing we need for accountability of our elected servants is the ability to hold you to account less frequently Of course we all know consultations mean it is a done deal

Mark Gough
2023-07-27 11:04:32

The truth is an all up Election requires 33 candidates, an Election by thirds requires 11. What this does is makes it more difficult for smaller Parties to put up full slates of candidates. I did put a full slate of candidates together in 2002 when I was Tory Campaign Manager, and it's flipping difficult! Also it guarantees nothing as nobody knows when bye-elections are going to come around. As for saving £100k a year. It won't as the actual Election for 33 candidates will cost three times an 11 candidate one in terms of counting agents, and will take a lot longer as people will have three votes. So a potential £200k saving in four years, but the reality is it will be much less. Frankly, democracy is better leaving it as it is. Mark Gough - Reform UK

James Leppard
2023-07-27 11:14:04

Adam, the seed for this proposal, to consider changing the electoral cycle, actually came from Harlow Labour last September, as published on YH: https://www.yourharlow.com/2022/09/20/harlow-labour-call-for-next-years-local-elections-to-be-cancelled/?_ga=2.133335304.704563967.1690189035-349913271.1655716068&_gl=1*8m7ij6*_ga*MzQ5OTEzMjcxLjE2NTU3MTYwNjg.*_ga_VG46TH43S2*MTY5MDQ1MjcxMC4xMjkuMS4xNjkwNDU0NzQxLjAuMC4w It is interesting to note the reasons given by Cllr Vince: " The ongoing Boundary Commission boundary review will, in 2024, lead to all of Harlow district council’s 33 council seats being up for election.This means anyone elected next year, May 2023, will only be elected for a year. For this reason the Labour Group believe that it would be prudent to cancel the 2023 local elections thereby saving tens of thousands of pounds of tax payers money on an election which will have no long term benefit". These same reasons are still valid. Around £300,000 will be saved and any councillors elected in year three will continue to serve for a single year. I would, therefore expect Harlow Labour to show consistency and support this proposal which they, in essence, originated.

gary roberts
2023-07-27 12:17:03

Will any party be able to find 33 candidates to stand for election next year? Apathy is rampant in politics today as the local turnout showed in May. It might open the door to local independent candidates who consider they know the problems in their community and is willing to fight for it.

Nicholas Taylor
2023-07-27 12:40:08

The Harlow Alliance Party are wholly against this proposal. Leaving any Party in control for four years is not good for democracy, as is the case with Cllr LeMay, people can get elected and then only attend a couple of meetings each year but still stay in post for 4 years without the need for a by-election. In the fourth year there will be a need for more staff involved at all stages of an election so the savings will not be as high as being suggested. Lets hope that if the majority of respondents to the survey so no to this change, both main Parties accept the result

James Leppard
2023-07-27 12:47:15

For once, I am in agreement with Gary Roberts. Arguments presented by any political party that they might struggle to find 33 candidates is a complete irrelevance to the concept and should be summarily dismissed. If any party cannot find 33 candidates as their representatives, that is a poor reflection on them, bringing into question on what basis do they expect up to 65,000 voters to support them when they cannot even find 33 candidates? No party or group is obliged to contest every ward and, as Gary Roberts says, independent candidates might well can stand as they do successfully in many parts of the country. This proposal is not about party politics, but rather efficient administration and the reduction of waste, both in terms of time and money.

Dan Long
2023-07-27 12:53:40

I said this once and I will say it again. I think that the only reason that this Tory administration party of Harlow want to hold local elections every four years is because they along with the Labour party of Harlow and the Liberal Democrats of Harlow are running scared of the likes of the up and coming Reform Party of Harlow, just like they all did in 2014 when UKIP took the most seats in the local election here in Harlow. Both Labour and the Tories polls are running low now because most people of Harlow and the UK in general have had enough of them both. None of them are in for the number one priority and that is the residents of Harlow. Dan Long. Reform UK

Cllr Tony Edwards
2023-07-27 13:38:33

The reasons for remaining with the present system are given on the Councils website Why keep elections by thirds? • More frequent opportunities to make your views known with more immediate political accountability. • Greater continuity of councillors as they can’t all be replaced in a single election. • Gradual change that retains knowledge and experience whilst allowing for new councillors with new ideas. • Voting for one councillor at an election is simpler and understood by voters.

gary roberts
2023-07-27 13:39:15

Cllr. Leppard the Conservative party in Harlow may find 33 candidates next year. Does that include you for the new Potter Street ward? If so perhaps you could tell me what you will actually do for the area rather than pledging to do something for the area which hasn't as yet been fruitful. Remember agreeing with me might be harmful to your candidacy application! LOL

James Leppard
2023-07-27 14:04:02

Tony Edwards, it was your party that last year commenced this process by proposing to cancel the May elections for all the reasons stated above. How can Labour now undertake a complete volte face claiming that what they proposed was less democratic? We do not elect national governments on this absurd and costly basis, so why run local government differently? Are you seriously suggesting that 70% of English local authorities are "less democratic"? How does Harlow Labour square its arguments by last year wanting to cancel the elections and now saying we should continue with thirds? Sounds like the Keir Starmer indecision and permanent flip flopping.

Tony Edwards
2023-07-27 16:16:42

Cllr Leppard - you know you are deliberately not comparing like with like - The Councillors elected in 2023 will only serve one year instead of four. This, as you know, is due to the redrawing of the ward boundaries by the Local Government Boundary Commission. Given that they would only be serving one year, as there was going to have to be an all out election in 2024 - it was perfectly reasonable to make the case for cancelling the 2023 election.

Tony Edwards
2023-07-27 16:19:22

It is worth restating, the reasons for remaining with the present system are given on the Harlow Councils own website Why keep elections by thirds? • More frequent opportunities to make your views known with more immediate political accountability. • Greater continuity of councillors as they can’t all be replaced in a single election. • Gradual change that retains knowledge and experience whilst allowing for new councillors with new ideas. • Voting for one councillor at an election is simpler and understood by voters.

James Leppard
2023-07-27 16:59:51

Cllr Edwards, voting by thirds means in the last year there are all outs to coincide with 4 year County Council elections (these are every 4 years, so those councillors elected in year 3 have but a single year before elections again. Cllr Vince also mentioned the cost. I still think it highly inconsistent that Labour has swung 180 degrees on this matter in such a short space of time. Why do you think that the large majority of councils prefer 4 yearly elections? The current system could result in four different administrations in 4 years, not to mention losing almost a full-year with elections and purdah. It is absurd and highly inefficient.

Alderman Durcan
2023-07-27 17:14:12

As stated at the debate no one ever has ever mentioned concerns about the election cycle. This is purely a political point scoring as the leader in my view offered this waste of time debate to gain votes for his leadership. Surly we have bigger issues to address instead of this ridiculous waste of public money running a consultation. It’s clear the Tories want this but I suspect the main stream couldn’t care less. Democracy is broken just like the broken promises made by the MP and his team at the council. Yearly elections provides productive engagement and accountability. Yearly elections ensures pot hole are filled in. Why are we wasting time and public money on this ego trip for a few Tory councillors.

2023-07-27 18:31:34

James. I have no love for labour either as far as I am concerned labour, lib dems, cons are all different socialist flavours. Looking at the bickering between the parties in the comments I think we should find 33 independent people in Harlow and get them to stand for office. You all take us for fools!

James Leppard
2023-07-27 21:14:20

Cllr Durcan and amnesia go together in the the same sentence. He forgets that it was his party that instigated this whole debate mentioning the waste of money on fruitless elections, and he has an impeccable pedigree in that regard as the former Cabinet member for Regeneration (although in his case, Degeneration), wasting over £ 1.2 million on consultants' fees for projects that never materialised. Yes, Harlow Labour are most content when they gleefully waste taxpayers hard earned money.

David Forman
2023-07-28 00:56:49

I think Dan Long is over estimating the appeal of the Reform Party. The Tories have stolen most of the clothes off UKIP's back and are moving further to the right to limit the growth of the Reform Party. The only policy Reform have that holds any water is that the Tories have failed to deliver their promises on immigration. Meanwhile Rishi Sunak says the Tories have been hampered by "activist lawyers" in stopping their Rwanda plan whilst conveniently ignoring it breaks international law. Plus, Sunak uses the old magician's trick of diverting attention away from the 600,000 increase in net migration. If one looks at the Selby and Ansty by-election Reform achieved just 1,332 votes, 3.7% of the vote and losit their deposit. Not a performance to inspire hope. Plus, I'm sure Hope not Hate have something in the pipeline.

Nicholas Taylor
2023-07-28 07:55:29

The simple fact is, sadly most Councillors only appear in their Ward as an election is looming, hoping to garner votes with warm words to the few people they find who will open their doors when politicians are out canvassing. All part of the Council and Councillors withdrawing from the public eye by closing offices, relying on social media and basically keeping people in the dark about what is going on around them. Leaving things in place for 4 years may be what many other councils do but that does not make it right.

David Forman
2023-07-28 09:04:17

Keeping people in the dark: like the new hospital where the NHP project team are developing a lower specification MVP design that excludes the original digital enhancements. I don't see how that will enable a medtech campus that was originally conceived to enable research projects, allegedly helping to retain doctors and nurses. At present, teaching hospitals in Cambridge and London attract PAH staff.

Ferlipe Ferlop
2023-07-29 11:59:56

My biggest worry has been highlighted by Mayor Khan in London. If you have a deluded mayor telling lies to bring in a new policy that is universally disliked and not wanted, you have very little in the way of correction other than wait years to remove them.

2023-07-29 15:28:14

Fortunately, we don't have anyone I. The current administration as incompetent and money grabbing as Sadiq Khan!

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