According to a series of leaked memos, the Government is going to bring forward the 2013 local elections from May to February.
The change is being heavily pushed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which wants to see councillors elected in enough time to be able to influence the coming year’s budget.
“Currently a council can change control in May, but often the fresh policies of the new administration are delayed because the council’s financial year has already started and the council tax level has already been set. We believe elections which settle the control of councils before the start of their financial year will enhance democratic control in line with the Localism Agenda”, argues the DCLG in its formal response to the proposal currently circulating amongst ministers and senior civil servants.
The memos also reveal why the Conservatives acceded to Liberal Democrat demands to delay the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, originally intended for this May, until November. As the Ministry of Justice’s response says, “The running of large-scale elections in November will form an important test of the practical implications of running elections outside the normal spring period. Without November’s (possibly wet) dry-run, a strong case against the February proposal could be made on the grounds of unknown risk. However, we believe that if the November elections are successful this will not be a significant factor.”
Concern has been expressed at the possible impact of turnout if elections are held in February, when the days are shorter and the weather worse than in May. To assuage them a study has been commissioned from the Met Office into long-term weather trends.
The report concludes, “Our best-fit projection is that by 2018 the average temperature, hours of sunlight and average rainfall in the month of February will be similar to those experienced in the month of May in our baseline period of 1906-1951. Therefore if the weather conditions were considered appropriate in the May elections of those years, our prediction is that weather will also be appropriate for February elections from 2018 onwards”.
Party President Tim Farron is recorded at having expressed concern over the plans in a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, arguing that the shortage of daylight hours in February will hinder political campaigning.
Farron has however been mollified by a pledge that extra grants will be provided to enhance street lighting in areas of predicted low turnout. Moreover, further research from the Met Office shows that the higher average wind speeds in February compared with May mean that although there are less daylight hours in which to deliver leaflets, there is an important compensating factor in wind helping push leaflets through the letterboxes much more quickly.
Farron has also secured a promise from Clegg that the Met Office will release real-time wind speed data under the Government’s open data program so that candidates and campaigners can also easily align their delivery and canvassing routes with prevailing wind conditions in real-time in order to speed up their perambulations. The party is also working on a special Connect / iPhone app to integrate real-time wind speed data with automatically updating delivery rounds.
As a planned cost saving measure, if the last Thursday in February falls on a leap day, the elections will be skipped and all incumbents automatically re-elected, I understand, according to a Ministry of Justice memo from Permanent Secretary Faro Illop.