Leaders of all the district councils, county council and unitary authority in Kent and Medway have sent a letter to government urging that May’s local elections are postponed until the Autumn.
The letter, which joins calls from a number of professional authority groups, follows news that government will invest £30million to make polling stations and counts covid secure.
Face coverings in polling stations will be mandatory, voters will be asked to brings their own pens or pencil and hand sanitiser, screens, and social distancing markers will also be provided at polling stations.
Anyone self isolating will be able to ask for a proxy vote up to 5pm on polling day. Increases in postal voting are predicted.
In Kent and Medway elections will be held for the county council as well as the police and crime commissioner post and a number of other polls.
The Kent and Medway letter, addressed to Secretary of State for Local Government, Robert Jenrick, says an election whilst coping with the covid pandemic will reduce resources across the county and mean teams dedicated to coronavirus measures will have to be swapped to electoral duties.
In it the council leaders say: “As a collective, given the continuing challenges regarding COVID we are concerned about the viability of these elections and the impact on vital services that are key to the successful fight against the virus.
“These were already going to be extremely challenging elections from an administrative perspective with the delay from last year but the current operating environment has a material impact on the viability of the elections, the notices for which are due to be published in a little over 6 weeks time.
“We are rightly proud of the tremendous role that local government has played on the frontline fighting the pandemic and note Government’s additional expectations and hopes regarding our role in the accelerated vaccination programme.
“In Kent and Medway we are continuing to deliver outstanding services but face the reality that an election now will impact on the strategic and political decision making of the upper tier authorities and reduce the available resources of districts, boroughs and the city council at the very time we need to be focusing on the virus.
“We write to suggest that the election should be delayed until the Autumn of 2021 and know that Government has received representations from the District Councils Network, Unitary Councils Network, County Councils Network, SOLACE and other professional groups and we now add our voice calling for a delay.”
In Kent and Medway elections scheduled for May 6 include:
- County Council (81 seats – largest County Council in country)
- Parish and Town Council elections (both delayed from last year and scheduled for this year)
- Police and Crime Commissioner (Kent and Medway)
- Two borough elections and a neighbourhood plan referendum
The letter says there are concerns for the safety of everyone concerned in the conduct of elections and over Government advice that political parties do not to carry out leafleting or door to door campaigning during the current lockdown.
Many polling stations venues are also currently closed and inaccessible for electoral staff.
The letter adds: “Members of Parliament have been mentioning their expectation of an increased use of postal votes but across our county (and the country) the postal service continues to struggle to deal with existing mail volumes and timescales with the planned vaccination schedule unlikely to impact meaningfully in the current electoral timetable.
“Our plans across the County are well advanced with directions from the Returning Officers already issued and a range of contingency plans in place. However, the reality is that in the coming weeks, the very people who are supporting the frontline service delivery against the virus will have to switch to their electoral roles. The days of large dedicated electoral teams within local government are long since gone and save for a few individuals, each authority draws on the broader workforce to deliver elections.
“Those are the people currently knocking on doors in ME15, delivering support to the vulnerable across the county, supporting our most vulnerable residents and delivering the key elements of track and trace delegated to local government.
“They are also the people who have been freed up to support asymptomatic testing and support those in Public Health working with the NHS on vaccinations.”
Council leaders say this means teams will have to switch from identifying and supporting testing and vaccination centres to prioritising elections.
They also say there will be an impact from election costs.