UK Politics

Home Office handling of PCC elections criticised by electoral staff

Ballots being counted in Avon and Somerset
Image caption Turnout was so low that polling stations were empty for much of the day, the association said

The Home Office did not have "sufficient resources or the level of expertise" required to run effective police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections, electoral staff have said.

The Association of Electoral Administrators criticised the timing of the first PCC elections in England and Wales, which took place in November.

This was "not in the interests of voters", the association said.

The Home Office defended the police's "biggest democratic reform" in years.

But the association called on the government to hand oversight of future elections to the Cabinet Office, which it said had more experience of electoral administration.

'Empty polling stations'

In a report, it said: "The detailed rules on how the elections should be run and how much could be spent in order to deliver them were both extremely late."

"Voters were not at the heart of the process," it added.

"Electoral administrators were only too aware of this as they responded to the many enquiries and complaints from members of the public trying to obtain information about the elections, the voting system and the candidates.

"There was information but it wasn't readily accessible to all and it wasn't well coordinated at a national level."

PCCs, which replaced existing police authorities in 41 police force areas in England and Wales but not London, have the power to set force budgets and hire and fire chief constables.

The PCC elections were marked by low turnout, prompting a detailed inquiry by the Electoral Commission, which has yet to report.

The Association of Electoral Administrators , which has over 1,700 members, noted: "On the day of the poll the vast majority of electors did not turn up, leaving polling stations empty for much if not all of the day."

It called on ministers to "provide for either a candidates' mailing or the delivery of a booklet containing information about the PCC elections and about the candidates to all households".

'Infinitely bigger mandate'

Information about candidates is posted to every household during parliamentary, mayoral and European elections in the UK, but this was not the case for the PCC elections.

At the time, then policing minister Nick Herbert said the £25m-£35m cost of mailshots was not justifiable in the current economic climate. Instead, details about candidates were published on a website and delivered to those who requested them.

Labour said it had raised concerns about the lack information voters received prior to the elections, which it said left people "confused and unengaged with the process".

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "These elections marked the biggest democratic reform in policing in our lifetimes.

"More than five million people turned out to vote for the first ever election of police and crime commissioners, giving them an infinitely bigger mandate than the unelected and invisible police authorities they replaced.

"That number will only grow in the future as people see the real impact PCCs are already making in their areas, delivering on public priorities in tackling crime.

"The Home Office will look at the points made in this report, along with the conclusions of the Electoral Commission's upcoming assessment."

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