Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-423)

17 MARCH 2004


  Q420 Mr Clelland: Can I ask what research you have done on the costs of all-postal elections as opposed to conventional elections? Would you not agree with the Electoral Commission that there ought to be a government funded central pot to pay for elections, particularly as this can be fairly burdensome on local councils like parish and town councils?

  Mr Leslie: Our estimate is that of course all-postal voting is more expensive and we think it is worth it because it gets greater turnout. My colleague is helpfully pointing out that at the 2003 local elections the cost per voter in an all-postal scheme ranged from £1.42 to £5.00 per elector compared to just over £1.00 for a traditional election, so we do have an estimate of that and we have put aside a certain amount of resource. As I said at the outset, that helped provide an envelope determining how many regions we could pilot in and we feel we can afford four regions.

  Mr Raynsford: I think it is true to say that Jeremy Beecham, in giving evidence to you a short while ago, emphasised that although there was a greater cost involved in all-postal, the gap between the cost of all-postal and traditional elections was reducing and there is the very obvious point about the benefit to democracy of ensuring a significantly higher level of turnout.

  Q421 Mr Clelland: Oh, absolutely, I would accept that point, but we have had evidence from the National Association of Local Councils that it is a particular problem for first tier councils. Is that something you have looked at?

  Mr Raynsford: It is in the light of the additional costs that we have agreed to make available the funding, the £13 million or so that we made available jointly between DCA, ODPM and the Treasury to ensure that all-postal voting could be conducted, or pilots could be conducted, in June this year without imposing new burdens on local authorities.

  Q422 Chris Mole: The big worry I think a lot of people have in the back of their mind is the question of the number of ballot papers that may be available in houses in multiple occupation or student accommodation or something like that. Are there any steps that you are thinking about taking to help address that particular situation?

  Mr Leslie: In some of the pilots that have already taken place we have learned quite a few lessons. That is one of the benefits of piloting. In Brighton and Hove the returning officers there had a particular team that went around to large establishments, student accommodation, houses in multiple occupation and so forth, hand delivering, making sure that they identified the particular voter if they were available and so forth, and that was a much more proactive measure of getting the ballot paper to the person in houses in multiple occupation. We have suggested that regional returning officers look at that best practice and take that up and that is something that we have put in the policy paper circulated to the returning officers so that there is good practice there that can be followed and built upon.

  Q423 Chairman: Is there a tricky question we should have asked you?

  Mr Leslie: You could always ask the question, "What can we do to persuade the House of Lords to recognise and wake up to the fact that four regions really is an excellent idea?", and I might be able to think of an answer to that, but perhaps that is a partisan point to our own colleagues.

  Chairman: On that note can I thank you very much for your evidence.

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