News  ⁄  Democracy & governance

May local elections to go ahead despite COVID-19 challenges

Ban on doorstep canvassing and door to door leaflet distribution likely to favour the two major parties on 6 May as postal and proxy voting encouraged in Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Local elections   Exeter city council   Devon county council   Police & crime commissioner   Coronavirus pandemic  

The government has confirmed that local elections will go ahead as planned despite doubts over whether it would be possible to hold the ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. Exeter electors will be asked to vote for city and county councillors and the Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner on 6 May.

Exeter usually elects three city councillors to serve four year terms in each of thirteen wards, a total of 39 councillors. A third of the seats, one in each ward, is normally contested in each of three years, with county council elections then held in the fourth year.

As the city council and police and crime commissioner elections should have been held in May last year but were delayed due to the pandemic, they will now take place at the same time as the scheduled county council elections. The city councillors and the police and crime commissioner will be elected for shortened three year terms to allow a subsequent return to the usual electoral cycle.

2016 Exeter City Council election results map2016 Exeter City Council election results. Source Wikipedia under Creative Commons license.

The thirteen Exeter City Council seats that are being contested are those which gained the most votes in the 2016 local elections, when the whole council was exceptionally elected at the same time following boundary changes. Labour are defending eleven seats and the Conservatives two.

There is also a by-election taking place in Mincinglake and Whipton following the death of a councillor. Voters in the ward will elect two city councillors with the person receiving the most votes serving a four year term and the runner-up a one year term.

Devon County Council elections for all 60 members will also take place on 6 May. 56 councillors represent single-member divisions and four represent Broadclyst and Exmouth, which have two councillors each.

The county council’s current composition is 42 Conservatives, 7 Labour Party, 6 Liberal Democrats, 2 Independents, 1 Green Party, 1 East Devon Alliance and 1 North Devon Liberal, following the 2017 elections before which boundary changes also took place.

Devon County Council does not administer Plymouth or Torbay, which are both unitary authorities and are holding elections on the same day.

The regional police and crime commissioner will be elected by everyone in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly at the same time.

2017 Devon County Council election results map2017 Devon County Council election results. Source Wikipedia under Creative Commons license.

Claire Wright, Independent county councillor for Otter Valley, said that independents and candidates from smaller parties are being disadvantaged by a ban on election leafleting and door to door campaigning.

She said: “Smaller parties and independent candidates rely on hand-delivering leaflets with a few of their helpers and spend weeks knocking doors and picking up and resolving issues. We do not have the resources to post leaflets or flood social media with advertising. Even if Independents did have this resource we’re not permitted to spend it.

“Each election candidate is held to strict spending limits by the Electoral Commission. The difference is that in addition to individual spending limits, the two main parties have vast central budgets that they’re also permitted to use.”

“This means they are likely to simply run their campaigns from central office online and by post. It would not be possible to post a leaflet to the six thousand or so properties in my county council division without breaching Electoral Commission rules.”

Kevin Mitchell, Liberal Democrat city councillor for St James and Duryard and leader of the progressive group on Exeter City Council, said: “The very least the government should do is allow all candidates a free post delivery as in general elections.

“Smaller parties and independent candidates have difficulty enough during normal elections raising funds. These new regulations will severely impede the ability of voters to know what is going on and who to vote for.”

Tom Hewat, Exeter Green Party election agent, said: “We sought advice from organisations such as Public Health England on delivering literature. The advice was clear: the risk of spreading or picking up COVID-19 while distributing literature is so small as to be of no concern.

“We accept that canvassing is not possible during lockdown. However, the ban on distributing literature door to door and allowing it only to be delivered by commercial companies has a strong whiff of a stitch up by the two largest parties.

“The government claims it wants to ensure a level playing field for those standing in this year’s local elections. But the game is currently rigged against smaller parties who don’t have large funds to draw on.”

Exeter polling station

The Government has defined new rules and is attempting to make polling stations safer so the elections can go ahead. On the current trajectory, all adults over 50 years of age will have been offered their first coronavirus vaccine jab by 15 April, three weeks before polling day.

The choice between voting in person and voting by postal or proxy vote will remain, and anyone who is self-isolating can request a proxy vote up to 5pm on polling day itself.

People who wish to vote in person will be encouraged to bring their own pencils or pens to mark ballot papers. Masks must be worn on the same basis as in any indoor public place. Hand sanitiser will be available and, where appropriate, screens and distance markings will be used inside polling stations, which will be cleaned regularly and ventilated as much as possible.

Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith said: “Everyone who feels comfortable going to a supermarket or a post office should also feel confident attending a polling station in May. We encourage anybody who is shielding, or who would prefer not to attend a polling station, to apply for a postal or proxy vote ahead of the polls.”

However Rob Hannaford, Exeter city councillor for Exwick and St Thomas and the Labour group leader at County Hall called the government’s approach “risky” and expressed concern about possible impact on turnout. He urged people to register for a postal vote: “The more people that vote early, safely from their homes, the more it will help ensure that polling day is more COVID-proofed and less busy, to help with waiting and queuing.”

Staff shortages and a lack of available polling stations have caused problems for officials. Additional costs for personal protective equipment will also have to be met from the £31 million of extra government funding that has been allocated to the elections.

Laura Lock, deputy chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said matters had been made more difficult by a government request that schools not be closed for use as polling stations and by the requisitioning of many other venues as testing or vaccination centres.

Limits on the number of people allowed at counts, which are expected to take longer than usual, may also have to be imposed.

Exeter City Council is administering all the elections that are taking place in the city on 6 May. Election notices including nominated candidates will be published on the city council website.

You must be on the electoral register in order to vote. You can register to vote online as well as check and update your details. You can apply to vote by post (for which the deadline is 5pm on Tuesday 20 April) and arrange to vote by proxy. The location of Exeter polling stations can be found by postcode search.

Records of previous elections held in the city are also published by the city council.


 is editor of Exeter Observer and a director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

 

 was a Local Democracy Reporting Service reporter based in Exeter.

 


Recent stories
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street


Help power our public interest journalism

More News
Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Landmark study by Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sutton Trust and Department for Education finds University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners.

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces coincides with international human rights campaigns.

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

Three year monitoring study confirms introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important Dawlish Warren and Exmouth sites.

All News
More Democracy & Governance
Liveable Exeter Place Board agenda October 2020 redacted

City council outsourcing Exeter local government to unaccountable Liveable Exeter Place Board

An Exeter Observer investigation of Liveable Exeter Place Board has found that it is a de facto decision-making and governance body which exercises public functions with the potential to affect everyone who lives and works in Exeter.

Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

All Democracy & Governance
Analysis
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite increasingly untenable pension fund committee position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and failure to understand sector position and plans.

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

Previously rejected vision will now form basis of "abysmal" and "poorly thought through" Liveable Exeter development of 383 "units of accommodation" with increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to city.

Exeter City Council climate credentials claim in St Sidwells Point development hoarding

Greens call for evidence-based Exeter carbon budget as city council clings to net zero rhetoric

The Net Zero Exeter plan lacks baseline emissions figures, recognised scope definitions and measurement and reporting frameworks, placing the city's decarbonisation agenda at risk. The opportunity for Exeter to demonstrate genuine climate crisis leadership nevertheless remains.

All Analysis
Comment
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

Net Zero Exeter logo

Is Exeter City Council going to abandon its Net Zero 2030 target?

Review suggests alignment with Devon Carbon Plan, currently aimed at 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, citing "technical and financial challenges ahead", although change in policy would require decision by councillors after 6 May local elections.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

All Comment
Transport & Mobility
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

RMT campaign sticker on Exeter bus shelter

Stagecoach strike to take place following failed pay negotiations

Transport union RMT says Stagecoach pay offer is unsatisfactory and demands better conditions as staff shortages threaten services.

Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Strategic vision places investment in roads ahead of decarbonisation despite acknowledging the region's high car dependency rate.

All Transport & Mobility
Planning & Place
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

Previously rejected vision will now form basis of "abysmal" and "poorly thought through" Liveable Exeter development of 383 "units of accommodation" with increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to city.

Independent local business on Paris Street, Exeter

Prospects improve for pop-up Paris Street and Sidwell Street tenants wanting to stay on development site

Council leader Phil Bialyk says it will be "some years" before planned CityPoint redevelopment affects repurposed retail units, and that council "would want" to accommodate artistic and cultural initiatives and independent local businesses "should they wish to remain".

Clifton Hill sports centre

Council plans to scrap affordable housing requirement for Clifton Hill sports centre site redevelopment

Council-owned and financed developer cites unpublished report which values council-owned land for student housing despite council decision ruling out this use.

All Planning & Place
Arts & Culture
Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

Exeter Princesshay Debenhams closing down sale

Top floor of former Debenhams store to be converted into cinema

Princesshay owner's proposals for change of use to four screen cinema and cafe/bar have been under discussion since November 2019.

Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

All Arts & Culture
Climate & Environment
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite increasingly untenable pension fund committee position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and failure to understand sector position and plans.

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

Three year monitoring study confirms introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important Dawlish Warren and Exmouth sites.

Exeter Extinction Rebellion activists fly flag outside COP26 Exeter event at Maketank with COP26 Exeter photography project in window

COP-EXE event showcases local responses to global climate crisis

Exeter city centre venues last week hosted exhibitions promoting local action to mitigate the climate crisis in tandem with the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

All Climate & Environment
Community & Society
Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Landmark study by Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sutton Trust and Department for Education finds University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners.

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces coincides with international human rights campaigns.

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

A community-run event at St Thomas' Church combined artisan traders with music, storytelling and craft workshops to create a family-friendly festival atmosphere.

All Community & Society
Economy & Enterprise
Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Analysis shows proportion of benefit claimants in Exeter in work is among highest in country.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

A new specialist centre for fast-growth Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine businesses will be completed by November 2021.

All Economy & Enterprise