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07.05.15

Millions start casting their votes in local and general election

Millions of people have started casting their votes in the 2015 general election and, just as importantly, the local elections. 

Polls opened at 7am at about 50,000 polling stations, with more than 9,000 council seats being contested across 279 English local authorities. 

As well as 161 councils having all of their seats up for grabs – the others are electing 1/3 of councillors – there will be six mayoral election races in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough, Torbay and Copeland. 

Commenting on the prospects for local government in the next Parliament, Matt Humphrey, head of consulting services to local government at accountancy and advisory firm Baker Tilly, said: “No matter who is in power post-election there will be an on-going requirement to balance the government’s books through continued budget cuts and demands for greater efficiency in the public sector. 

“To date, local authorities generally have responded well to this call from those holding the purse strings in Whitehall. However, to ensure that further savings can be created, as well as delivering continued improvements in service provision, the future government will now need to give much more freedom to local authorities in how they go about raising finance and organising themselves for the good of the communities that they serve.” 

Ahead of today’s vote the overall political control of councils in England, Scotland and Wales, according to data from the Local Government information Unit, is: Conservatives control 43%; Labour controls 28%; Lib Dem control 3%; Independent and smaller parties control 2%; and councils with no overall control 24%. However, this landscape could change by tomorrow. 

Andrew Scallan, director of electoral administration at the Electoral Commission, said: “This year’s elections will be a chance for voters to have their say on the issues that affect them. We don’t want anyone to miss out because they didn’t know what to expect on polling day. 

“Polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm, so plan now when you’re going to cast your vote. Information on how to mark your ballot paper will be available inside the polling station.” 

Ahead of today’s elections, the local government associations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, in a joint statement, have called on politicians to grasp “the opportunity to revive our local democratic systems”. 

The organisations want to see the next government set out how powers will be devolved to local communities in its first Queen’s Speech. 

The statement said: “As we approach the election of a new Parliament, the time for talking has ended. The UK Local Authority Associations are very clear that it is time to move away from an expensive, centralised approach which means that governments in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh or London try to second guess what is best for localities.” 

Matt Humphrey added that only through the creation of a less constrained decision making and operating environment will local authorities be able to lead the wider public sector in its on-going reinvention. 

“We know that the government will not be able to afford a reorganisation of local government, so why not provide local authorities with the ability to do so themselves in an expedient manner? I am sure that there will be many local authorities that will relish the opportunity this presents to demonstrate their increased value and worth,” he said. 

The April/May 2015 edition of PSE is now available for FREE using the new PSE App, available on iOS and Android. Search ‘Public Sector’ in the App Store / Google Play.

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