Calls for a by-election as former indie councillor joins the Conservatives
It was announced yesterday that former independent Town Councillor Louise Passey has joined the Conservative party, increasing the number of Tories on the council to 19 while reducing the number of independents to just 3.
In a statement Cllr Louise Passey criticised the Independents for Sutton group claiming that it “…is going through a period of great uncertainty and challenge” and that there is a “clear lack of focus, structure, (and) cohesiveness”. She concluded by saying that, “In becoming a Conservative on this Council I believe I am securing the best possible future for all of us who are proud to call Royal Sutton Coldfield our home.”
Some Sutton Vesey residents have expressed their dismay over the move having only elected Cllr Passey as an independent a few months ago. There has also been some calls for a by-election from across the Sutton Coldfeld District.
I put the question of a by-election to the chairman of the Sutton Coldfield Conservative Association, Cllr Ewan Mackey, who said:
“Well first of all there is a cost implication. Last time I was told it was about £55,000 to hold a by-election and as this would come out of the Town Council funds it is not a good use of the money.
“Furthermore, Louise will still represent all the residents in Vesey Ward regardless of how they voted. There has been a call from many parties to rise above party politics and that everyone should pitch in together. It is a bit irrelevant which party Louise stands for when she is going to be fighting on behalf of all the residents of Vesey.”
According to the National Association of Local Councils (NELC) the component costs of holding a local council election would appear to be:
- Returning officer – the fee they receive;
- Clerical support – clerical and administrative resources needed;
- Premises – hiring of polling stations and a count venue;
- Polling staff – fees paid to duty staff at the polling stations;
- Postage – the outgoing and incoming cost of postal votes;
- Ballot papers – the printing costs;
- Polling cards – the printing costs;
- Labour – incidental costs, such as the delivery of ballot papers;
- Transport – incidental costs, such as the delivery of equipment for polling stations;
- Count – fees payable to staff at the count; and
- Notices and stationery – for statutory forms, other printing, etc.
In a paper on Local Parish and Town Council Costs, NELC states that…”It is district, borough or unitary councils which manage the local council election process and they can fully re-charge all reasonable costs incurred. Any decisions to reduce or waive the re-charge are ultimately for individual districts/boroughs/unitaries to take.
“Re-charge costs quoted during this research have been £14k (Stanley Town Council) and £11k (Alwoodley Parish Council in Leeds) for a full local council election, and £3k (Shrewsbury Town Council) for a by-election. Further research would be needed to find out if these are broadly representative figures or how far costs vary. They come from larger local councils, so may be at the upper end of the range.”
Although to be clear, the NELC figure refers to direct costs and not the indirect costs which will likely increase the cost quite considerably.
Vesey Councillor at both City and Town level, Rob Pocock (Lab) commented on Cllr Passey’s move to the Conservative party:
“Most Sutton residents want to see a broad range of views represented on the Town Council and do not really want national party politics brought into it. That is why the ‘Independents for Sutton’ candidates got such a strong public mandate at the ballot box just 3 months ago. Only half the voters at this year’s Council elections supported the Conservatives in Sutton, and they certainly don’t want the Town Council to become a one-party state.
“To all those who share this view, I say don’t be disheartened – stand up, voice your independence and speak out for what you believe. There is no mandate on the streets of Sutton Coldfield for Conservative political machine’s obsessive desire for total dominance here. In fact people are fed up with it.
“You get setbacks every day but this is the time when you have to be brave, be bold and believe in the future. A few defections cannot override the underlying verdict of the voters which, year on year, is steadily slipping away from the Conservatives and towards a much broader, more balanced and wide ranging mix of local opinions. I have fought for this aim for many years, and this latest event simply strengthens the resolve of all of us who believe in this better future!”
Also responding to the move and Cllr Passey’s comments Independents for Sutton spokesman, Jim Haywood, said:
“It was disappointing to hear from the press that Louise Passey had decided to give up the independent banner she had been elected under and move to the Conservative group on the Town Council.
“The IfS group has always drawn from across the political spectrum, bringing people together to work for the common good, this is why Louise’s statement is so disappointing. Her desire to work towards making Sutton Coldfield an inclusive town for groups with additional needs is commended and supported by IfS and her focus on a single issue could well have brought results. Louise clearly though feels this point is better served with the support of the controlling group on the council.
“As for the claims in her statement of the group being a route for individual gain, IfS feel this is more than a little unfair as the group works for residents and we help each other but Louise’s decision places her outside of that ethos. She has clearly made a move that benefits her over the group and those who elected her as an independent candidate.
“IfS is a vehicle to enable independent candidates to work together to inform the electorate of their candidacy and to promote the idea of independent residents being involved in the Town Council. As independents we have pooled resources to campaign together. We are not a political machine and we encourage independence of mind and listening to residents’ views rather than pushing a party political manifesto.
“Louise joined IfS because she claimed she was committed to being independent. If she was unhappy with IfS, she could have left IfS and remained an independent councillor that the electorate voted for. Joining the Conservative Party has let down the electorate who voted for an independent councillor and she should now consider doing the right thing and resign as a Town Councillor so that the electorate can decide in a by-election who they really want to represent them.”
Tom Pratt, IfS committee member and founding member added:
“It’s important to remember that Independents for Sutton was only set up in January of this year. Despite not having the sophisticated, established machinery of other local parties, we’ve come a long way in that time, including getting four independent councillors elected in May. Political parties are always in a state of evolution, and this is no different with us. Candidates, councillors and other group members have been contributing to the development of Independents for Sutton into a group which will campaign effectively on behalf of all residents living in Sutton Coldfield – we would also welcome others who would like to become involved in our group.“