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Council CEOs must be trained on skills needed to tackle electoral fraud, says Pickles

Officers at the most senior level in a local authority, such as chief executives, should be appointed as electoral registration officers and returning officers and must undertake relevant training to ensure they have the necessary skills for the role, former communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles MP has said in his much-anticipated review of the electoral system following the Towel Hamlets scandal last year.

Sir Eric, who retained his position as anti-corruption champion under Theresa May, outlined a total of 50 recommendations in his report that would help overturn “weaknesses in the system”, which he blamed for facilitating the events at Tower Hamlets.

“We take our democratic institution for granted. We need to make sure that people trust the system and that perceptions can play as big a part in undermining the system as well as actual proof of fraud,” he said in his foreword.

Topping his recommendations was the need to give more power to returning officers and the police to address unwanted behaviour in and around polling stations, with guidance indicating where such power could or should be used.

He also called on central government to work alongside councils to introduce a separate, voluntary municipal register for those who do not have voting rights but have permission to reside in the UK, in order to “protect the integrity” of the electoral register.

Further down his recommendations was the need to utilise the learning from work undertaken by councils in 17 areas at higher risk of electoral fraud in order to inform guidance and practices going forward.

A protocol for reporting within a local authority on issues relating to electoral fraud must also be developed with guidance given by the Electoral Commission in conjunction with the National Police Chiefs Council, and the government must also undertake a review of how democratic checks and balances can be increased in local government executive structures “where power is concentrated”.

Other major recommendations included clamping down on postal vote ‘harvesting’ by political activists; piloting forms of identification at polling stations; and tackling the links between electoral fraud and immigration fraud.

Commenting after the report launch, Sir Eric said: “Last year’s court ruling in Tower Hamlets was a wake-up call that state bodies need to do far more to stamp out corruption and restore public confidence. It was local residents who lost out from the crooked politicians who bullied them and wasted their money.

“The law must be applied equally and fairly to everyone. Integration and good community relations are undermined by the failure to uphold the rule of law and ensure fair play.”


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