Somerset poll to cost £1m+
Papers were published today for the Sedgemoor District Council meeting next week. In amongst them are some interesting facts about the upcoming poll (it is not legally a referendum). This was announced earlier in the week. The idea is to give a voice on the future of local government in Somerset.
The Leveller® has always supported the idea of a proper referendum. A referendum on the same day as the local council elections would have been ideal. Cheaper and on a much more practical timeline. And it could have been made binding on the Secretary of State, should he have allowed it. And had the district councils lobbied him in a timely fashion.
The Leveller® says: Let us be clear. We all know what a consultation is. We have watched these deeply flawed exercises before. Such as the one conducted over the merger of Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset. So the districts knew well in advance exactly what would happen. To protest now at the last minute that a consultation will not do, is at best myopic. At worst a piece of political theatre.
There will no doubt be much hand wringing and discussion about how this wasn’t possible. The fact is it was. All that had to happen was to convince the Secretary of State. This apparently was not the preference.
So to be clear this is not a referendum. It is (sorry to be technical) a poll held under s116 of the Local Government Act. This effectively allows councils to hold a poll, which is effectively a glorified petition. It does not permit a referendum, despite the fact that Sedgemoor repeatedly call it one. It is not binding.
The true cost of the exercise (you will be paying – not central government) has now been revealed. It is contained in Agenda item 4.2 for Sedgemoor District Council’s meeting next week. it asks the full council to approve £100k for the poll and a further £250k principally as campaign costs. As Sedgemoor is one of four districts pledged to do the same we can assume total costs of £1.4m. So the four districts expect to spend a further £400k on the poll itself. Followed by a further £1m spent by lobbying for their case. And that is on top of what they have spent already lobbying the Secretary of State.
There are, The Leveller® argues three significant flaws in the poll.
The first is that it takes place across a three week period. It is akin to gathering signatures on a petition. Once you have cast your vote, that is it. The fact that the arguments rage on and you may change your mind is your problem. If a poll is going to deliver anything of value, far better to have a single day and a deadline for responses.
The second is that this is going to spend £1.4m of your money. If the job had been done properly the costs of the poll could have been shared with other elections. And spend it on an exercise that is arguably a waste of time (see point 3 below)
The third and more fundamental flaw is that the results will be known, and delivered at a point when the Secretary of State will have given his decision. The consultation being conducted by the Secretary of State ends on 19 April. A decision is expected in the fortnight following that. This poll will not report until after the decision has been taken.
So what is the point of an exercise that will report your views after the decision is taken? It is to embarrass the Secretary of State by providing a popular response that is different to the one he chooses. Because the districts expect he will choose the One Somerset case. Which of course he may not.