May Elections Yes – Not Necessarily in Somerset

On Friday 5 February, the Constitution Minister Chloe Smith, made a statement on local elections. It was probably the worst kept secret in Government that elections will go ahead in May. That was confirmed by Chloe Smith. County Council and mayoral elections in England would go ahead as planned. As would the Police and Crime Commissioner elections too.

What we did not learn, was what would happen in Somerset. Somerset County Council asked for a postponement as a new unitary authority (or two) is due to replace the council. The Leveller® discussed this with the Cabinet Office and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government today. We asked what the situation in Somerset in the light of the request for the elections to be postponed. Both Cumbria and North Yorkshire, also due to become unitaries, have also asked for postponements.

In a statement to The Leveller® a Government spokesperson told us “We’re considering requests by the County Councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset to postpone the county council elections in each of those areas – set to take place in May 2021 – due to the unitary proposals currently being reviewed.”

They also noted the following:

  • Following an invitation from the Secretary of State on 9 October, councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset submitted two proposals for unitary local government for the area.
  • Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset County Councils also made representations for postponement of the county council elections due to take place in their respective areas in May 2021 on account of the unitary proposals.
  • The Secretary of State is carefully considering this, and there are precedents for postponing local elections in areas where local government reorganisation is being considered.

Meanwhile Constitution Minister Chloe Smith is making some changes to the election process. She set out ground rules for how the elections would work in May. There will be an estimated £92 million of government grant funding that will be provided to local authorities for the elections. Of this, £31 million is an uplift to help make the elections COVID-19 secure.

There will be changes to the nomination process too. The government listened to the views of candidates and political parties. It is agreed that the need to collect a high number of signatures for nomination to be a candidate is unhelpful. It would encourage an unnecessary amount of travel, interaction, as well as complexity for candidates. Government has tried to balance the importance of democracy with the need to protect people. The number of signatures will be reduced, but we do not as yet know by how many.

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