Local Elections Postponed in Cumbria, Somerset, and North Yorkshire
2021 is a year packed with elections all over the UK, with a huge opportunity for the British electorate to influence politics at the local level. However, in three regions of England, Council elections have been postponed. Cumbria, Somerset, and North Yorkshire have all had their local elections postponed and their current councillors terms have been extended by a year. This is a decision that has been taken by the Government and approved by local councils.
Why have the elections been postponed?
The postponement of the council election in these three regions is due to a restructuring of their local authorities. Currently North Yorkshire, Somerset and Cumbria operate with a two-tiered local council system where local decisions are divided between smaller district councils and the larger county councils. In October 2020 the government formally invited these regions to submit locally-led proposals for local authority restructuring. In all three regions councils are exploring two potential options. Firstly, the creation of a single one-tier authority for the entire region or secondly, the creation of two authorities split by East/West or North/South. This has already been seen in Northampton where 8 councils were replaced by 2 new unitary councils in North and West Northamptonshire. This restructuring aims to reduce the overall cost of administration for these local authorities and increase efficiency in providing local services.
With these changes and reviews underway the Government believes that to call elections now could be potentially confusing for the electorate as well as result in unnecessarily short terms as new elections will take place if the restructuring occurs. Robert Jenrick the Communities Secretary said that "Elections in such circumstances risk confusing voters and would be hard to justify where members could be elected to serve shortened terms.” Because of this, the elections have been postponed until next year. However, it is also possible that the elections are replaced indefinitely by new elections if the restructuring plans are approved.
What does this mean for voter participation?
The postponement of the council elections in Cumbria, Somerset, and North Yorkshire has suspended people’s ability to influence local politics. Some Labour and Liberal Democratic councillors have raised concerns that if the plans aren’t approved within a year many councillors may have further extended terms preventing local people from having a say in local politics. However, the changes in local government allow people to participate directly in local government decision making. The current public consultation enables local people to submit concerns and recommendations to the local councils concerning the restructuring. Furthermore, any decision requires ratification from Parliament giving additional opportunity for lobbying of local MPs in this decision-making process.
Although local council elections have been withdrawn, all three areas still have police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections. These elections provide public legitimacy to the decision made in policing and PCCs are responsible for ensuring effective, efficient, and responsible policing for their local area. The postponement of council elections may harm PCC elections as they are often considered to be a secondary election for many voters. This potentially could result in lower voting participation in PCC elections compared to when they are running alongside local council elections. This then makes it even more important that people register to vote and participate in decisions that affect their local communities.
Sam Ward, Policy & News Analysis Associate