Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Cornwall Council says no to taking on police returning officer role

Cornwall Council this morning voted by 47 votes to 36 to recommend that our Chief Executive does not take up the post of returning officer for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. In doing so, we said that we are opposed to the potential under-funding of elections, worried about the risks involved and concerned about another step towards Devonwall.

The Police and Crime Commissioner elections are currently being discussed by Parliament. It appears that the original proposed election date of next May is to be postponed until the autumn but the concerns are still there.

The first concern is over the under-funding of elections. Cornwall Council is very good at running elections and has excellent staff. In terms of the the basic mechanics I have no doubt that we will come in at (or even under) budget. But the electoral system being used for these elections is a new one (at least to those of us outside London). The Supplementary Vote system needs explaining and Cornwall Council has asked for a guarantee that a proper local voter education campaign will be run. But we haven't got that assurance from the government and there is anger about that.

There is also a high degree of risk in taking on responsibility for running an election across Devon and Cornwall. I have no problem with our Chief Executive acting as the Returning Officer for Cornwall as that work involves protecting the reputation of the authority he heads. But if he takes on Devon as well then he will have to spend a lot of time (when he is paid to be in Cornwall) sorting out those problems.

Many of those who supported the proposal were also concerned that the commissioner elections are a further step towards Devonwall and there was strong support for a Cornish Constabulary.

The end result was a vote recommending that our Chief Executive remains as returning officer only for elections in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. That shouldn't be taken as a comment on his abilities - he's very good at this work - but it is a statement of principle that elections should be properly funded and that we should not be moving further towards Devonwall.

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