West Norfolk parishes to pay if election called but not held

Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk, King's Court Hq, Chapel Street King's Lynn
Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk, King's Court Hq, Chapel Street King's Lynn

Parish councils in West Norfolk could have to pay the costs of organising elections, even if nobody contests them, under plans to be considered next week.

Borough council officials say the measure could save the authority thousands of pounds a year and bring the arrangements into line with those for polls which do take place.

West Norfolk Council is legally required to organise by-elections to fill vacant parish council seats, if they are sought by residents. An election must take place if 10 electors in the parish request it.

But, this year alone, only one out of four parish by-elections organised by the borough for two villages – North Runcton and Thornham – were actually contested. A second poll was arranged in Thornham when only two candidates initially came forward for three vacancies.

And a report published ahead of a borough cabinet meeting on Tuesday, where the issue is set to be examined, said voters were only able to go to the polls in 12 parishes at the last full election in 2015, with around 100 authorities not having contests.

Officials now want to charge parishes for the cost of organising those polls, as well as contested elections.

The report said charges had been applied for contested elections in 2011 and 2015, as well as for by-elections and parish polls held since that decision was taken in the autumn of 2010.

It added: “When a parish election is uncontested, there is a degree of administrative work required of the borough council elections team, as clearly it cannot be known at the outset whether a contested election will take place.

“This does of course have a real and measurable cost to the borough.

“It is estimated that costs for an uncontested election will be in the region of £200 per election.

“At this year’s rate of uncontested elections this equates to approximately £20,000 cost to the borough council every four years.

“Charging for elections as a result of casual vacancies could also recover approximately £2,000 over a four year period, based on historic information available.

“The proposal is to re-coup the costs of the service from its users.”