Letter to Editor: Last day to have your say on local elections

Elections / Mon 18th Sep 2023 at 06:40am

FOR those residents who have yet to respond to the consultation to change to whole council elections every 4 years, I urge you to do so before the closing date of 5pm Monday 18 September – today.

It is a consultation in the loosest sense of the word; you are given a binary choice – either we keep the current system of ‘elections by thirds’ or change to whole council elections every 4 years.

The council have highlighted the options for retaining the current system as:

  • 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.

The four reasons cited for radically changing the system are as follows, and I have addressed them accordingly:

  1. It would save nearly £100k a year.

The alleged savings of nearly £100k a year which Cllr Leppard has quoted in the YH Letter to the Editor on 27 July 2023, as being guaranteed that this amount is ring-fenced for services and facilities for Harlow’s young people requires further clarification.

  • How long will a fund of £100K for services and facilities for Harlow’s young people continue for?
  • Does this mean that Harlow’s young people have been underfunded by £100K?  
  • What services and facilities for Harlow’s young people have been identified and who identified them, was it Cllr Leppard or was this a cross party collaboration decision?

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.

This is not a reason to change the current election process and I am not certain that by changing the system to an election every four years would ensure that the council spends all of its time making Harlow a better place.  

Political fighting serves to distract residents from the real problems facing the town and seems to be a regular sport within the council chambers and on social media platforms.   There appears to be far too many egos on the council who need to be reminded of the Nolan principles and the fact that their expenses are paid by those they are supposedly serving.

Four years would enable such councillors to indulge themselves, such as often using the title of  ‘councillor’ when not even on council business, to attend the minimum required number of meetings to avoid a by-election, not necessarily contributing to any attended meeting, to claim their expenses (current £4,575 per annum is the basic allowance).  Members allowances are clearly set out, for transparency purposes on the council’s website .  The cold reality in such situations is that residents are left for four years without a voice at the council chamber.

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

Are the council suggesting that they could have done better in the past given more time?   Again, further clarification with evidence is required in order for this to be given more credence.

4. Your vote really would matter.

This statement implies that your vote has not really mattered in the past.  For your vote to ensure that the view of the electorate is truly represented, you would need to look at an Alternative Voting System (AVS).  

To conclude, if Harlow council does change to whole council elections every 4 years, it will never go back to a term of fewer years.  

If the council are so intent on changing the system, I would suggest a compromise whereby a trial of two year election cycles and an alternative voting system are introduced to the residents of Harlow.  

The most appropriate system for elections to local Government is the Single Transferable Vote (STV). Electors would have one ballot paper and rank their candidates in order of preference which would enable multiple councillors to be elected for each ward. STV could either work through electing the whole council at once or by electing half the council at each election to enable elections to take place every two years. 

The Electoral Register could be simplified.  Residents would be automatically registered to vote through council tax records. If council tax is abolished, another method of automatically registering people to vote in elections, based on local records, will be sought.  

If you are a Harlow resident, please respond to the consultation before 5pm today as it will affect you.  

Yasmin Gregory

Co-Chair – Harlow Green Party

Green Party Candidate for Old Harlow

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17 Comments for Letter to Editor: Last day to have your say on local elections:

Nicholas Taylor
2023-09-18 07:59:35

The four reasons given by the Council for keeping the present system far out way any reason for change and Yasmin is right to say that there are other changes which could be made which residents are not being given the chance to have a view on. It could be argued that every Councillor should be subject to a vote every year, at present we have Councillors who are not seen or heard of in their ward until their turn comes up for election, one of the Councillors in the Great Parndon Ward has only attended one Council meeting this year! Harlow Alliance are wholly against a change to the present system. Nicholas Taylor, Harlow Alliance candidate in the Great Parndon Ward.

Cllr James Leppard
2023-09-18 08:09:48

•The vast majority of Councils in England and Wales (around 70%) elect their councils on the basis of 4 year terms. • The current system of annual elections by thirds is expensive and wasteful, costing taxpayers about £100,000 each election. These funds could be much better used for improving Council services, such as youth facilities as an example. • Not only are we wasting resources, recent elections have seen turnouts of a mere 25-30%. People clearly are not impressed nor engaged with the current system. • The current system is inefficient: at least two months each year are lost to purdah and election campaigning, instead of focusing on the administration of the town. • Annual elections are inimical to the Council -irrespective of party- to focus on needed longer- term policies and plans as they are constantly distracted by forthcoming elections. It is pretty apparent why most councils do not operate under Harlow's current system.

Jennifer Steadman Bush Fair Green Party Candidate
2023-09-18 08:56:04

My main concern is that if a councillor hasnt made a positive difference to his or her ward within the first year of their elected term, or they havent connected with their constituents within that time, then the residents will be stuck with them for a further three years! I know of a few current councillors who work hard for their constituents, but equally there are some who are distinctly invisible to their residents. Imagine being stuck with someone for another three years who has failed their ward miserably!! This is not only unfair to the electorate, but also a total waste of funds to the councillor sitting back collecting his or her expenses! One might argue that one year is not long enough to make the changes the residents need, but a year is long enough to get to know the changes they need and to start preparing your cases to make those changes! Please let's stick with the current system!

Kim Oconnor
2023-09-18 09:05:14

KEEP THE ELECTIONS BY THIRDS. Our voices are not heard now, so if people don't like it we can vote out.

2023-09-18 09:51:30

Where has ghis been advertised?

2023-09-18 09:52:20

Where has this been advertised?

Dan Swords
2023-09-18 10:21:57

Just to clarify, in the current system, councillors are elected for four years (as they would in the the proposed system). The difference is one third are elected each year currently, as opposed to all in one go. So it is not true to say you would be 'stuck with someone for another 3 years' in the proposed system - that is the same with the current system. The difference with the proposed system is that all councillors would be elected at the same time for four years - so no difference to Jennifer's point, the only difference is doing it in thirds costs £300k more.

Nicholas Taylor
2023-09-18 11:45:34

In the event that a Councillor has to resign due to ill health or other commitments or indeed passes away, with both Parties agreement a by-election can be delayed if the usual May elections are not to far off. The proposal now put before the electorate would mean that a by-election could not be delayed, with all the election expenses that this incurs. With elections taking place every four years such by-elections are likely to be needed quite often so the savings which have been suggested are not really realistic.

James Leppard
2023-09-18 11:51:39

Nicholas Taylor: pure conjecture with no supporting evidence. How do the 70% of other councils in England & Wales manage without undue stress?

Julie Taylor
2023-09-18 12:00:20

Sounds like the current administration has already made their minds up!

James Leppard
2023-09-18 13:10:37

Julie Taylor, we do not see this as a party issue but rather about better governance and saving money that is spent pretty needlessly when only 25-30% votes. Also, we should not ignore the fact that the great majority of councils, irrespective of party, opt for 4 year elections.

Kim Oconnor
2023-09-18 17:10:02

Tom Compton. Not the case... But they will do what suits them.

Nicholas Taylor
2023-09-18 17:33:07

Tom, I worked for Harlow Council for 30 years and Epping Forest DC for another 14 years so have a very clear understanding of how councils and elections work. Perhaps you can advise readers of your local government employment history? James, just because other councils have a different election system does not mean that the residents of those Councils have been given a chance to comment on the subject or indeed how satisfied they are with council services. Is there any evidence that elections every four years leads directly to an increase in voting numbers? The Green candidate in the Gilston area won his seat when there was a 40+ % turnout, people will come out to vote if issues directly affect them. As Julie has said, your Party has already made up it's mind behind closed doors.

James Leppard
2023-09-18 20:07:31

Nicholas Taylor, absolutely wrong. I am expressing my opinion only as Portfolio holder of Finance & Governance. I cannot speak for my colleagues. I await the results of the consultation, but I have found the arguments for retaining the current system wholly unconvincing. I have also spoken with a number of other authorities of all political hues that work on 4 year cycles and none is minded to switch to our system of elections by thirds.

Nicholas Taylor
2023-09-18 21:42:36

Well James, I have not seen any comment made by one of your Conservative colleagues supporting the present system. As I said earlier, I know how these things work behind closed doors, I have been there. I have no doubt that in a pre meet, the Party whip will be out and you all vote in favour of the proposal. I notice there has been no comment from the Labour side, I suspect they hope to regain power next May and can sit tight for four years, taking what credit there is in the plans your Party has put in place.

James Leppard
2023-09-18 23:22:33

Nicholas, again this pure speculation on your part. Let's see what the consultation shows. That should be the basis for moving forward. As I have laboured to explain, I do not see this as a Party issue but rather about more effective and more economical governance.

2023-09-22 21:43:59

Given the way the folk of Harlow are seen as trash and an inconvenience best ignored by both of the main parties, I would like, none of the above, as a choice on all future local ballot papers. Then let's see how both parties start working for us.

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