Jack Straw ditches British election cost-cutting plans

Proposals to close thousands of polling stations and cut voting hours to save money – exclusively revealed in LGC – have been abandoned.

According to the Guardian, Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said the options are “simply unacceptable”.

He is quoted: “Officials need the space to examine all possibilities before they put proposals to ministers. This examination of the costs of elections comes within that category. I and other ministers had absolutely no knowledge about this exercise.

“I make no complaint about that but now that it has gone public I make clear what I would have told officials privately: that these proposals are simply unacceptable.

“The exercise has therefore ended. Democracy has to be paid for.”

He is said to have ordered officials to abandon proposals which his department had said were only ideas for further consideration.

Civil servants had been considering savings including cutting polling stations and voting hours and increasing deposits.

Another option discussed in the plan would see ministers “mandate” daytime counts to save on staff and accommodation costs.

Long-term possibilities included moving to whole council elections as a norm and transferring the running of elections to the Electoral Commission to counter the risk of local authorities being “subject to political interference”.

LGC reported the plans were drafted in August and discussed at a meeting of the ‘elections efficiency savings working group’ of civil servants, council chief executives and senior officer and elections officials in September.

Ken Ritchie, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said the health of the democratic process was more important than savings, which he described as “peanuts” in the context of the public sector’s wider spending clampdown.

Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government programme said: “You can’t get good democracy on the cheap.”

Local Government Chronicle


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