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Lancaster students will get a chance to vote for a new member of city council, as Labour Councillor Matthew Mann steps down.
While an election on the Thursday Week 1 is being held to replace Cllr. David Smith in Westgate, Morecambe, the by-election for Cllr. Mann has been delayed so that new and returning University students will be able to register and vote. However, this decision has come under fire from Tories, saying the timing of Cllr. Matt Mann’s resignation caused a needless by-election and wasted public money. Eileen Blamire, Labour Councillor and Lancaster City Council Chief Executive, has spoken out to clarify why the vote was delayed. Cllr. Blamire said Mr Mann had informed them of his wish to resign earlier this year but the Labour group was advised to wait until the new university term to make it official.
Tory Councillor Charlie Edwards then put out a statement on behalf of the Conservatives saying they were “furious” because the Labour party knew “months ago” he would have to move, claiming he could have resigned earlier to avoid a separate by-election. “Part of Cllr. Mann’s job was to scrutinise wasteful spending,” said the statement.
“It costs between £8,000-£12,000 to run a full by-election; this is a serious amount of money that could be prioritised on vital services for the people who need it the most.
“The Lancaster Labour Party keep on telling us how strapped for cash they are. Yet they seem happy to waste public money. It is letting our residents down.”
To explain the issue, a spokesperson for the Lancaster City Council has explained that holding two by-elections on the same day would not have saved the city or either party any money. In a statement to the Lancaster Guardian, they explained: “Electors are allocated to polling stations that are positioned within their own polling district, and as such polling stations cannot be combined geographically in order to seek to reduce costs.
“The cost for running two by-elections in different wards of the city council would, therefore, be the same if they were held on two different dates, or both held together on the same day.
“The cost of a by-election depends on a number of factors, including the type of election, the number of polling stations, the electorate and the number of postal voters. This varies from case to case.”
SCAN was able to speak with Cllr. Mann, who explained:
“I am sad to have had to resign my position as a Councillor for University and Scotforth Rural, but I was offered a job that takes me away from Lancaster that I didn’t feel I could refuse. Whilst the job started in September, there was good democratic reason as to why I left it until now to resign.
In collaboration with the University, the City Council has rolled out the Sheffield Model. This means that instead of university students having to register to vote individually online, the previous register which saw a shocking volume of people fall off the electoral register, University Students, whilst registering at Lancaster University at the start of term (a mandatory process), now must opt out of registering to vote, and that is all they need to do. This model has had great success in getting student areas such as where it originated, Sheffield.
These registrations, however, take several weeks to process. If I had resigned at the beginning of September, an election would have taken place at the beginning of October and as a result, there would be almost no students on the electoral register, and it would have made a mockery of the election with a tiny number of eligible voters.
Because of this, after deciding to take the job I spoke with the Chief Executive of the City Council and the Head of Democratic Services. After consultation with the Electoral Commission, it was agreed that due to the unusual nature of University and Scotforth Rural Ward it was entirely appropriate to delay the resignation until 10th October, which would see a democratic by-election and a new Councillor elected who will be genuinely representative of those they represent.
I did not take my Council Allowance during this time period and there is no difference in cost to the Council by delaying the by-election for several weeks, as Council staff have confirmed and contrary to what Conservative Councillors have been trying to claim.
I wish all my luck to whoever succeeds me, and whilst I hope and am sure it will be the Labour candidate who is elected, I am pleased that whoever it is will be truly representative of those who they represent.