Is Wirral Council deliberately trying to kill off any transparency about elections?
By John Brace – Local Government Editor
Since the fiasco where Wirral Council decided to black out from the inspection copies all details of donations to political campaigns (rather than just the home addresses of individual donors contrary to Electoral Commission guidance) I’d decided instead during an inspection (which is free) to take my own copies as it saves 20 pence a page and having to ask Wirral Council to do it again after it gets done wrong the first time (which is annoying).
The legislation about this (to me) seemed exceedingly clear and somewhat not open to interpetation but for clarity states,
7 (1) Where a document is made available for inspection under these Regulations, any person may make a copy (whether hand-written or by other means) of the whole or any part of it.
Return and declaration of election expenses
10.—(1) For the purpose of section 75(3) of the 1983 Act, the form of the return of election expenses shall be in Form C and the form of the declaration as to election expenses shall be in Form D.
(3) The price of a copy of any such return, declaration or document shall be at the rate of 20p* for each side of each page.”
*this is the prescribed fee referred to in s.89(1)(b) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (see below) where appropriate officer means Returning Officer.
89 Inspection of returns and declarations.
(1) Where the appropriate officer receives any return or declaration under section 75, 75A, 81 or 82 above he shall—
(b)if requested to do so by any person, and on payment of the prescribed fee, supply that person with a copy of the return or declaration and any accompanying documents.
So there I was taking photos of the documents during an inspection of the 2019 general election expense returns (as I have for the past at least seven years that have led to stories such as Frank Field’s election campaign spent £254.40 on balloon gas but what else was money spent on? and Should Frank Field have declared £2,000 USDAW donation to his 2017 General Election campaign in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?).
In comes Kate Robinson (pictured above who is appointed by all Wirral Council councillors as the Electoral Registration Officer for Birkenhead, Wallasey, Wirral West and Wirral South constituencies).
She says to us both “You know the rules!” (so the legislation is read out to her) followed by her saying “Don’t quote the legislation to me!”
She demands that I delete the photos on the camera (when she doesn’t get her way on this) she takes away the inspection copies (before it is finished) and announces her intention to lock them in a safe.
So again – if I can get this straight – at Wirral Council (uniquely it seems) English law just means whatever a Wirral Council employee says it does (which is odd as I thought interpretation was generally a function reserved to the judiciary)?
Also somewhat ironically the law I thought that allowed me to take copies during an inspection (although according to Wirral Council does not) was introduced by the last Labour government and this is a minority Labour controlled Council.
I asked the Electoral Commission for their view on the above (I was referred to 2.34 of their published guidance), which unfortunately is silent on the issue of making copies during an inspection.
A few years ago I reported on an Employment Tribunal – the decision runs to 20 pages. In it there was judicial criticism of Kate Robinson’s management style that is referred to in that judgement as “poor management” and “rather crass”.
You’d also think that having declared a climate crisis Wirral Council would appreciate a solution that uses less paper and ties up less staff time.
So I’m curious – what do people think? Please leave a comment and let me know!
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