Government postpones local elections over coronavirus

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The government has announced council elections with be postponed for a year due to concerns about coronavirus.

Elections had been due to take place at the beginning of May and could have seen a different political party take control of Southend but fears about the impact coronavirus during the election period has meant voting will no longer take place until next year.

The delay has come after the Electoral Commission wrote to the government to recommended that the May 7 polls be postponed “as a result of the coronavirus pandemic”.

In a post on Twitter, the commission said: “This is due to growing risks to the delivery of the polls and to mitigate the impact on voters, campaigners & electoral administrators.”

Downing Street has said the elections will now take place in May next year, leaving the makeup of the council unchanged for another year.

Council leader Ian Gilbert said: “I am surprising. I do believe a delay was sensible as I think it would have been impossible to conduct elections fairly under the current circumstances but I am surprised the government has gone for a year’s delay.

“I think we need to look at the reasoning as to why they feel a year is appropriate but this is a decision they have only just made.”

Cllr Gilbert added that the formal process for elections was due to start in the next few weeks and continuing without postponing would have presented a number of issues.

“First of all there are those of us that would be going out to speak to public – I don’t think people would welcome people turning up and going to door to door in the current climate, so that is one problem but it is also the council’s ability to administer election.

It is a huge administrative process at a time when we may be under strain to keep other vital services going.”

Cllr Carole Mulroney, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said it was time to “forget political concerns” and make health and safety the priority.

She continued: “If that means taking such precautionary measures so be it. I think it is important that the Government don’t dither over any appropriate action to combat the virus. People need strong leadership, clear advice and reassurance that things are under control.

“I know our public health, NHS and all our social services are working flat out and we must support them and take whatever measures are necessary, personally, locally and nationally to help them do their job.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called coronavirus the “worst health crisis in a generation” and the government has issued new measures, including asking people who experience a new continuous cough or a higher temperature to stay at home for seven days.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter