In his speech to Barnet Council's Annual Meeting, Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Barry Rawlings has called for a second, wider review into the running of elections in Barnet:
ANNUAL COUNCIL MEETING 24/05/16
Speech by Cllr Barry Rawlings, Leader of the Barnet Labour Group
Thank you Mr Mayor and can I congratulate you on your new civic and non-party political role on behalf of the Labour Group.
I would also like to congratulate and welcome John Hooton to his new role as interim Chief Executive. And I will offer him my sympathy in his new role as Electoral Registration Officer. And it’s in his new role as Returning Officer that I wish to make a few brief comments.
Since the elections shambles on 5th May I have attended a number of external meetings and whenever I have introduced myself as a councillor from Barnet have been met with commiserations. ‘Bungling Barnet’ has become the byword for bad government. And no-one in this room enjoys the fact that our Borough, which we should be proud of, has become a national laughing-stock because of that election fiasco. But it doesn’t have to be like this, Barnet deserves better.
A brief investigation is taking place to uncover what happened on the 5th May and what needs to be done to avoid the same disaster happening again. This is right and proper, but I simply do not believe that the parameters of this review go far enough. To be clear, myself and Jack Cohen were only ‘consulted’ on the Terms of Reference in the Barnet sense of the word. In other words, we were simply informed about the Terms of Reference, and when I suggested additions I was told they had already been agreed with the Electoral Commission and could not be added to. Cllr Cohen and I were just bolted on to the process in the way that many residents are when the council goes about its many consultations seeking their views and then ignoring them.
There is a review after each election looking at any problems, and in successive elections similar issues crop up about adequate resourcing, experience of staff, problems with electoral registration, non-receipt of polling cards and postal votes, and the location of polling stations. Clearly there are still problems in these areas, and we need to get it right.
Therefore, I believe it would be a dereliction of our civic responsibility not to have a second, wider investigation into these long running issues. With regeneration and a more mobile population due to the increase in private renting we need to increase our efforts to ensure registration of those entitled to vote, we need to ensure those requesting postal votes have the opportunity to vote and that accessible polling stations are closer to where people live.
To ensure this happens we propose that this meeting agrees to commission a more wide-reaching review of Electoral Services and Electoral Registration as follows:
That Council agrees that a wider, more general review of Electoral Services and Electoral Registration is undertaken to include but not be limited to:
- Whether the resourcing and staffing of Electoral Services and Electoral Registration is adequate
- How effectively polling cards, postal votes and proxy votes are being administered
- Whether there are a sufficient number of polling districts for the population of each ward, and
- Whether the location of polling stations in each ward are accessible to electors in each polling district
- The adequacy of preparations for elections and arrangements on the day including the election centre hotline
- Whether recommendations from previous election reviews have been implemented, and all lessons learned
- Any other relevant matters to be agreed by General Functions Committee.
I realise I am speaking to a report appointing an officer, and so I would like to just add that while things have gone wrong in successive elections in Barnet, under different Returning Officers, the one constant factor has been the presiding administration. And so, I look forward to some political accountability at the end of these investigations and reviews.
I formally move my motion.