When I first covered the new powers to reduce Returning Officer pay I said it was something mostly to remember for after polling day. So now we’re there, here’s a reminder.
A long-running theme of mine has been how Returning Officers used to get paid in full, regardless of how well or badly they did their job. Add to that the bizarre way Returning Officer pay was increased significantly just before the 2010 general election without anyone first working out how much it would cost and on the basis of an extremely implausible argument and it’s been a classic little case of how public funds get spent badly, out of sight of media or political outrage and regardless of whether the public service is delivered well.
One of the lesser known political reforms seen through by the Liberal Democrats was the power to reduce Returning Officer pay when the job has been done badly.
The Electoral Commission has now set out how it will exercise its power to make recommendations to the Secretary of State to do that. As the Electoral Commission says:
In making a recommendation, the Commission must have regard to … Any other information relating to the performance of the service by the (A)RO that has been provided to the Commission.
In other words, if your (Acting) Returning Officer has messed up, then you should tell the Electoral Commission.
The Commission itself says:
In reviewing [complaints] the Guidance and Performance team will refer any matter which appears to indicate that there may be a significant performance issue…
Significant is open to many interpretations. Is attempting to wrongly refuse part of the pack of nomination paperwork – something that has happened this year – “significant” (because being successfully nominated with the right ballot paper description and logo is crucial to elections), or will it be viewed as trivial if the agent or candidate argued back and got the (Acting) Returning Officer to change their mind before close of nominations?
Moreover, as this is a new system, no-one knows if the result will be the Commission doing nothing, doing something token or doing something substantial. But one thing is sure – if the Electoral Commission doesn’t know, then the only option is for them to do nothing.Guidance-on-process-for-witholding-or-reducing-RO-fees