Opportunity for change' fails to secure the votes

PUBLISHED: 11:55 28 September 2006 | UPDATED: 14:50 12 May 2010

Cllr Peter Burt: “No over-riding reason for change.”

Cllr Peter Burt: "No over-riding reason for change."

COUNCILLORS have decided to keep the current voting cycle in North Herts. It means that one-third of the council will still be elected rather than seeing all-out elections for the whole council every four years. The decision came after an hour-and-a-half

COUNCILLORS have decided to keep the current voting cycle in North Herts.

It means that one-third of the council will still be elected rather than seeing all-out elections for the whole council every four years.

The decision came after an hour-and-a-half debate at a special council meeting on Thursday evening.

The decision showed, too, the difference in thinking between members over the introduction of a change to the election cycle.

For a change, this was not a debate where members had to toe the party line, but one where councillors were allowed to express their own views.

Perhaps, the end result was not a change in a system that has been running as long as the district council itself but, at least, a worthwhile exercise in democracy.

And that was the important part of the debate. It was about democracy rather than political views.

Cllr Andrew Young, the cabinet member for policy, was given the job as advocate of a change in the system.

In his usual eloquent way his words of the subject were logical and sound.

But, then again, Cllr Young has long supported the idea of all-out elections.

He described the idea of changing the voting cycle as an "opportunity".

It was, he said, an opportunity where votes became more "precious" for the electorate because they could actually make a difference.

Meaning, he said, that elections every four years could see a change in the political complexion of the council. This, he said, was unlikely when just a third of members were elected at one time.

"Figures show that turnout is higher in all-out elections and there is more opportunity for votes to really count," said Cllr Young.

That led to "greater interest" on the part of the electorate in council elections.

There would be, too, he said, an improvement in the running of local government with the opportunity for the council to work on long-term policy and budget requirements.

"It would see an end to year-on-year policy and year-on-year budgets. It's not the way a business would be run and local government has become more of a business." he said.

Cllr Young added that all-out elections would end the situation where members always seemed to be in election mood and were "playing politics".

Liberal Democrat Sal Jarvis said she had surprised herself by taking a similar line to that of Cllr Young.

She said the current system was too confusing and all-out elections would be better understood by voters.

But one Royston councillor, Cllr Peter Burt, said there was "no over-riding reason" for change.

And Labour group leader Cllr David Kearns said that all-out elections would "not be right for North Herts".

There was concern raised, too, that all-out elections could be set against the background of a single issue rather than taking account of the whole workings of the council, and there was the possibilty that the "nutter element" could be elected.

Cllr F John Smith, the leader of the council and a man who over the years has stood in 18 elections, said there were many "valid points" raised during the debate.

But he warned: "A change to all-out elections would mean no going back. It would be extremely difficult to change later and it will have to be something we have to live with for a long time.

"If there is a vote against the recommendation there is nothing to stop us returning to the subject and having another debate," he said.

- Changes being imposed by the Boundary Committee could mean that next year there will be an all-out election in North Herts.

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