The Minister for constitution and devolution has said that local elections are still set to go ahead in May, despite the coronavirus pandemic, but repeated the Prime Minister’s words that the position is ‘under review’ and that moving the date would require ‘very careful consideration’ and would be ‘based on robust evidence’.
Chloe Smith said, on Wednesday afternoon (Jan 13), that as setting a new election date would require a change in primary legislation, ‘we can all understand that the bar here for change would have to be quite high’. She added that ‘there is a very full record of preparation to make sure these elections will be a success. I will be keeping the public further updated as we go on in terms of guidance’ and pointed out that polls have gone ahead in Scotland during the pandemic.
She told the House of Commons that ‘due to the pandemic, many of these elections had already been delayed by a year. But voters have a right to be heard and to decide who governs them’.
The Minister said that there were no plans to hold a fully postal ballot but said that the government will bring forward additional measures to support absent voting, including extending the ability to appoint a proxy to cast their vote for them, so that people affected by Covid when the poll takes place would still be able to vote. She advised that anybody who is shielding or who would prefer not to attend the polling station should apply for a postal or proxy vote.
The Shadow Minister for voter engagement and young people, Cat Smith, said it was ‘yet another example of the Conservative government being too slow to act’ and expressed concerns for staff who may risk their health in running the elections.
Nationally, the elections this year will be the biggest for many years because elections for more than 100 councils were delayed last year.
On the Island all the seats on the Isle of Wight Council are due to be up for election, which are being reduced from 40 to 39 seats with boundary changes. The Police and Crime Commissioner, whose term of office was extended by one year in 2020, will also face the polls.