Posted by: John Brace | 2nd May 2019

Electoral Commission confirms that Wirral Council used wrong legislation in candidates’ consent to nomination that was nearly 4 years out of date!

Electoral Commission confirms that Wirral Council used wrong legislation in candidates’ consent to nomination that was nearly 4 years out of date!

                                 

Returning Officer for Wirral Council Eric Robinson 25th March 2019

Returning Officer for Wirral Council Eric Robinson 25th March 2019

The Electoral Commission have confirmed today that Wirral Council issued all candidates in the twenty-two elections of a councillor to Wirral Council nomination papers that contained a flaw.

In a statement provided today The Electoral Commission wrote, “We will update the forms with the additional relevant extracts of the legislation to reflect the amendment the next time we revise them.

It does however remain the responsibility of each candidate that when the sign their consent to nomination form that they meet the legislative requirements for standing for election.”

All candidates in the twenty-two elections of a councillor to Wirral Council sign a dated and witnessed statement in the candidates’ consent to nomination (about three dozen of these have already been published on this blog) that states, “I declare that to the best of my knowledge and belief I am not disqualified from being elected by reason of any disqualification set out in, or decision made under, section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 or section 34 of the Localism Act 2011 (copies of which are printed overleaf), and I do not hold a politically restricted post, within the meaning of Part 1 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, under a local authority, within the meaning of that Part.”

Legislation requires a candidate’s consent to nomination to include these three pieces of legislation.

In 2015 as part of the Coalition government’s “cutting the red tape” Deregulation Act 2015 from the 26th May 2015 section 80(2)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972 was changed to remove the words “, joint waste authority”.

Whereas at the moment Wirral Council collects the waste and Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority disposes of it, the concept of joint waste authorities was created in 2009 to combine both functions with £1.3 million of government funding. However no joint waste authorities were then created.

Section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 was therefore changed to remove the words from 26th May 2015.

However Wirral Council included these words in the nomination packs for candidates.

Wirral Council appear to be advertising for a Head of Legal post.

Councillors on Wirral Council decided that the Returning Officer would be Eric Robinson. It is Eric Robinson who has ultimate accountability for how the elections are run on the Wirral and it part of his role to check the validity of nomination submitted by candidates.

However it hoped that in the future greater care will be shown in this sensitive area of elections, however as the same Returning Officer has previously decided we would not be welcome at the count (bizarrely at the same time Wirral Council advertised with us its Chief Executive decided to state his reason was that he thought we were not a bona fide media organisation) we sincerely hope that matters will improve especially with European Parliamentary Elections in a few weeks time!

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Responses

  1. Eric Robinson doesn’t do ‘accountability’, as is evident from his recultance to show any ‘accountability’ for his lack of exercising due diligence when procuring the services of a certain Mr Halliday. So should we be asking, at what point does a local authority’s CEO be held accountable for maladministration under their watch?

    • In certain circumstances there is the possibility for a Returning Officer’s fee to be reduced or withheld if the administration of the election isn’t done properly.

      In serious cases (for example in the London Borough of Barnet where people were stopped from voting for 3 and a half hours in the morning in 2016) the Returning Officer resigned both as Returning Officer and from his substantive post as Chief Executive.

      Ultimately councillors decide both on the Returning Officer and Chief Executive, so as long as a person has the confidence of half of the councillors that person remains in post.

      Even after Liverpool City Council’s Returning Officer and Chief Executive Ged Fitzgerald was arrested and it was alleged he had engaged in conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation, he retained the confidence of Mayor Joe Anderson and it was a long time before a different Chief Executive was chosen.

      So yes, although in theory there is accountability in the political system for political appointees, in practice because the councillors picked the person there is a reluctance to hold them to account even when to the outside world it seems like the person may or may not be damaging the confidence in and the reputation of the council by remaining in that position.

      I think there is a series of tests the Electoral Commission have over the Returning Officer fee issue which I’ll look into.

      I’m pretty sure Wirral Council would have taken out insurance to cover black swan events.

      However the performance standards for Returning Officers are as follows:

      Performance Standard 1 – Voters
      Voters receive the information they need, in an accessible format and within time for them to cast their vote
      Voters receive a high-quality service
      Voters have confidence that their vote will be counted in the way they intended

      Performance Standard 2 – Those who want to stand for election
      People who want to stand for election receive all the information they need to take part
      Candidates have confidence that the process is well-managed, and have confidence in the results

      Performance Standard 3 – Co-ordination and management of the poll
      To ensure that local Returning Officers have the necessary arrangements in place to deliver well-run elections in their area

      Obviously the issue of nomination packs being accurate does impact on performance standard 2 and possibly 3.


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