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Paper 6 - 30 November  2001Meeting

ASSOCIATION OF HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT LOCAL AUTHORITIES

30 November 2001

IMPROVING PARTICIPATION IN THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

Report by the Chief Executive of Rushmoor Borough Council

SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Against the background of falling turnouts at local elections and the need to take account of the best value performance indicator on elector turnout, Rushmoor has considered what action can be taken locally. It is recognised that there are wider issues and is asking the Association to consider:

making representations to the Home Office to encourage the Electoral Commission to examine all initiatives which promote elector turnout, including the principle of compulsory voting; and

examining whether any action can be taken within the local area to promote elector turnout.

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1 Rushmoor’s full Council has recently had a discussion on various aspects of elector turnout. As a result of the debate, the following resolution was passed:

"That this Council endorses all attempts to improve elector turnout in this country and seeks the support of the Association of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Authorities in making representations to the Home Office to encourage the Electoral Commission to examine all initiatives, including the principle of compulsory voting."

1.2 In addition to the discussion at full Council, one of Rushmoor’s Policy and Review Panels has made elector turnout a project with the aim of preparing an action plan of local measures for implementation in time for the elections in May, 2002. Rushmoor’s normal electoral cycle is by thirds, but like other Hampshire districts, at these elections the whole Council will be standing.

1.3 The purpose of this paper is to identify the issues which are currently being examined by Rushmoor as a way of stimulating discussion within the Association.

2. BACKGROUND

2.1 Enhancing local democracy is one of the Government’s key objectives in its modernisation agenda. The Government has also made elector turnout a best value performance indicator (BVPI) which reflects the concern that for a number of years turnout has been falling. In the Aldershot Constituency (including all of Rushmoor), turnout at the 2001 combined elections was 58%, representing a significant fall from the 70% in 1997. The Borough Council elections turnout has been running at just below 30% over the last few years. Overall, the trend in turnout across the country has been a gradual reduction of 20-25% in the last ten years.

2.2 Rushmoor has included local democracy as one of its strategic objectives and, in view of the BVPI, the Council will be including an action plan in its Local Performance Plan from April 2002. The project developed by the Borough Services Policy and Review Panel centred round the following issues:

* motivational factors affecting turnout locally

* effect of current initiatives and practices aimed to improve registration and participation

* review of electoral best practice and innovation in both this country and abroad what initiatives would be best suited to raising turnout in this area

2.3 It is recognised that addressing turnout is a complex and difficult issue to address. Levels of turnout may reflect current attitudes in society and that solutions to the underlying problem are unlikely to be found simply through changes in procedures and systems. It is for that reason that the Council initially raised the issue of whether a system of compulsory voting would be worthy of active consideration. Whilst the Council felt unable to adopt a policy advocating compulsory voting, it was of the view that it should be considered as part of a wider review of electoral procedures.

3. LOCAL ACTION PLAN

3.1 A number of authorities have trialled some of the Home Office pilots with mixed results. Clearly, they do provide the opportunity to test whether changes in procedures do have an effect. The main area where there has been a positive effect has been in the area of postal voting, whether it has been through all postal ballots or simply extending the postal vote franchise following the recent change in legislation. The Electoral Commission appears to be advocating all postal ballots at present and a number of authorities are looking to hold such ballots across their areas in 2002.

3.2 Notwithstanding the wider issues, Rushmoor has taken the view that a range of local initiatives should be introduced as a way of encouraging turnout. These include:

* using town centre displays at certain times of the year

* sending out leaflets at appropriate intervals to all properties in the Borough (possibly to include a leaflet following close of nominations)

* using more visible publicity (eg banners)

* providing information to all residents about the work of the Council and the role of councillors

3.3 The work is being co-ordinated with the outcomes of the periodic electoral review, particularly in relation to the review of polling places.

3.4 The Panel is not sanguine about the initiatives having a significant effect, but feels they provide a start whilst the other fundamental issues are examined in more detail. This will take time and would require a national debate. 

ANDREW LLOYD
Rushmoor Borough Council

Date: 1 October 2001
Contacts: Andrew Lloyd – 01252 398397 Andrew Colver – 01252 398820

Last update: 21/11/2001
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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