Whitworth residents’ views wanted on moving to four-year, whole-council elections
Date published: 05 February 2024
Photo: Robbie MacDonald LDRS
Rossendale Council full council meeting
Rossendale Council is to consult the public - including Whitworth residents - on a move to holding fixed four-yearly all-out local elections, starting with this year’s poll in May.
A change would end the current rotating system where a third of council seats are contested in three out of four years. There will be a six week consultation period followed by a decision by councillors in March.
Whitworth residents can have their say in a survey on the council’s website or on a paper version, for those who don’t have access to the internet. There may be some drop-in consultation sessions in different places too.
Rossendale Council said the decision to consult highlights its dedication to long-term planning and is also a response to the challenges of reduced funding from central government over several years.
It said this funding situation means local councils across the country have accomplish more with less resources.
A recent report said elections can cost up to £90,000 a year under the current phase cycle. Costs include election publicity, administration and council staffing. Disruption is another issue, with some schools or other buildings needed as polling stations.
A fixed, four year term between elections would fit with with the council’s priorities of efficiency and good governance.
Chief executive Rob Huntington emphasised the financial advantages of change. He said: “Reducing the frequency of elections aligns with our commitment to being an effective and efficient council and is also a sound financial decision.
“When budgets are as tight as they have been for some time, it allows us to allocate resources more efficiently, thereby reducing the costs associated with frequent election cycles and administration.”
The expected move to fixed four-yearly elections coincides with forthcoming Rossendale ward boundary changes and the reduction in borough councillors from 36 to 30 at the local all-out elections scheduled for this May.
Councillor Alyson Barnes, leader of Rossendale Council, said: “Considering the council’s constrained resources, moving to four-yearly elections is a reasonable decision.”
With a more extended period between elections, councillors can concentrate on their responsibilities without constant re-election concerns, fostering a more effective and efficient working environment, the council said.
Mr Huntington added “A four-yearly term of office allows us to plan and deliver more effectively over the medium to long term. We are committed to delivering results that positively impact our community, and we believe this move will help us better-achieve those results.”
An informed, evidence-based decision will be made in March after the public consultation and feedback analysis, ahead of the May local elections. The consultation ends on 5 March.
The move comes after a recent special meeting of Rossendale councillors. A report to them stated whole-council elections provide a clearer political mandate and more stability, and are likely to be better-understood by voters.
There are also wider concerns about the UK public’s confusion and ‘fatigue’ with regular elections, and people’s disengagement with politics.
However, arguments in favour of the current phased local election cycle include allowing new councillors to learn from experienced ones, and less risk of dramatic changes. Other arguments include allowing voters to ‘judge’ a council regularly almost every year, through elections, rather than just once every four years. This, arguably, increases political accountability and the ability for local politics to react more quickly to local situations.
But the council must consult local people before any decision is taken.
In 2022, Rossendale councillors voted against holding whole-council elections every four years. They said it followed low levels of public feedback. But Conservatives at the time said they still believed change would bring benefits.
Robbie Macdonald, Local Democracy Reporting Service
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