Councils call for urgent clarity on this year’s local elections

England’s largest councils have urged the government to provide urgent clarity on the local elections scheduled for May, and for a swift decision on whether they will take place in the spring.

The plea comes after speculation in the media that the government is considering postponing the local elections, due to take place on 6 May, as a result of the country going into a third lockdown and the impact of the ‘new strain’ of coronavirus.

People across the whole country are set to go to the polls in May, but the elections in county areas are the biggest type of local elections scheduled for this year: with those areas containing some 19 million potential eligible voters across 32 councils.

The County Councils Network says that the continued speculation over whether the elections will go ahead in May or be postponed is ‘unhelpful’ for unitary, county, and district councils who jointly administer and plan county council elections in two-tier local authority areas. This is because they have already begun planning for polling day in Spring and will continue to do so until instructed otherwise – at a time when efforts are being prioritised on tackling the rising rates of coronavirus and maintaining essential services.

Latest figures show confirmed cases have risen by 163 per cent in county areas over the past four weeks. The number of total cases has risen from 498,776 positive cases at the beginning of December last year to 824,000 as of the 1st January. The infection rate per 100,000 people in the week ending the 1 January was 469.5 compared to 178.3 during the week ending 11 December.

David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, said: “The elections in county areas this Spring are the single biggest type of council elections scheduled to take place this year: with up to 19 million people potentially eligible to vote in 32 different areas. These are substantive logistical undertakings at any time for unitary, county and district councils, but the pandemic creates significant challenges to ensure votes can be cast safely.

“Councils have already spent months planning for the elections in May, and will continue to do so right up until polling day despite the recent rise in cases undoubtedly intensifying these challenges. Continuing speculation about the elections being deferred is unhelpful so we need urgent clarity and a swift decision from the government as soon as possible on whether these elections take place as scheduled.

“If we are left until March or later for a decision to be made, there is a risk that months of hard work from councils would be at risk – and at a time when much of the local effort is on suppressing the virus and keeping day-to-day services running.”