Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Somerset have spoken out against the Government’s decision this week to postpone May’s planned Somerset County Council Elections.
The elections were due to take place on May 6th, but are being delayed because of the controversial local government reorganisation, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced on Monday.
Mr Jenrick has launched a consultation on whether a single county authority or two councils split on an east/west basis should replace the current two-tier system of local authorities in Somerset, as reported here.
Elections for all the county council’s seats will now be rescheduled because of the possibility that the authority will soon cease to exist, the Minister said in a written statement.
He added: “Elections in such circumstances risk confusing voters and would be hard to justify where members could be elected to serve shortened terms.”
“Accordingly, I have concluded that, irrespective of what my future decisions might be on the restructuring proposals, the right course is to reschedule the May 2021 local elections.”
“If no unitary proposal is implemented in an area, the rescheduled elections will take place in May 2022. If a unitary proposal is implemented the rescheduled elections will be replaced by elections in May 2022 to the new unitary authority or authorities which could be in shadow form or a continuing council taking on the functions of the other councils in the area.”
In his statement, Mr Jenrick added that the consultation would last for eight weeks until April 19th and that respondents could make their views known online, by email or by post.
While the County Council elections will not now take place on May 6th, the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner election and those for a vacant Burnham and Highbridge Town Council seat will proceed as scheduled.
A spokesman for Labour in Somerset told Burnham-On-Sea.com last night: “Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has decided that the people of Somerset will be denied their say in the expected County Council elections which were due to be held on 6th May 2021.”
“We strongly believe that theses elections should not have been cancelled. It is four years since we last elected County Councillors, and it is time for us all to have the chance to choose new councillors.”
“While we understood that elections due last year had to be postponed due to the health crisis, we do not see that a consultation on restructuring local government is sufficient reason for not holding elections. Our voters are intelligent, and would quite understand electing County Councillors this year, and potentially members of a new authority next year.”
“We are concerned that the consultation on the future of Local Government was announced on a day when everyone was focused elsewhere. Any perceived clash between elections and the consultation could have been avoided simply by holding the consultation later in the year.”
“We would suggest that, had the elections taken place, the ‘One Somerset’ proposal would have been at the mercy of voters. Our society is predicated on the principle that councillors and others can be removed from office if their electorate so chooses. This helps to ensure that they act in the interests of all. We believe that the cancellation of these elections is unacceptable manipulation of the normal election timetable.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesperson added: “Somerset Lib Dems are dismayed at the cancelling of democracy. The Tory ‘reign of error’ at County Hall will carry on for a 13th year with no mandate.”
We have invited Somerset Conservatives to comment and will update this story when a response is received.