Have we missed something?

That’s the headline  of ‘From the editor’s chair’ in today’s View from Sidmouth, (www.viewfromonline.co.uk  Tuesday, October 14th 2014, page 3).

The piece begins, ‘If I was a district councillor in East Devon I think I might be asking a pertinent question or two about why elected members had no previous knowledge that chief executive Mark Williams had been summoned before a Government select committee. ‘

It goes on, ..’I have some sympathy with the view expressed by experienced Ottery St Mary councillor Roger Giles when he said:”I would have thought that it might just have been of passing interest to the members of EDDC”, noting that in his 19 years of service he could not remember the chief executive being invited to meet with such an august body as the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on Voter Engagement in the UK. ‘

Then, referring to the East Devon Alliance as ‘a pressure group which rarely shies away from rattling a few cages at Knowle’, the editorial points out that ‘The matter was first raised by (EDA member) Paul Freeman, who made ‘the alarming claim that 6,000 names had gone missing from the electoral roll in east Devon before the European elections’ , and that Mr Freeman’s question about it to Full Council in July  is said to have had “an arrogant brush off” by Mr Williams.

‘Mr. Freeman did not let the matter rest and maintains that Mr Williams had been invited to Westminster to “explain himself”.

As to be expected , the communications department of EDDC put a very different spin on it. They say Mr Williams had been invited in his capacity as returning officer for East Devon “to give evidence on voter engagement in rural areas”. ‘

The View from editor sums up as follows:  ‘A great deal of council business is delegated to unelected officers and that often means the flow of information to councillors, and indeed the public, leaves much to be desired.  Roger Giles, somewhat tongue in cheek, commented: “Have I missed something? Clearly he had—like the rest of us.’




Sidmouth dismissed?

While being questioned by the Parliamentary Select Committee yesterday, Mark Williams referred to “the two main towns in East Devon: Exmouth and Honiton.”

Sidmouth Councillors might not be too pleased to hear this. Should they let him know that Honiton’s population is substantially less than Sidmouth’s?

To check what was said, go to this link  https://eastdevonwatch.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/official-transcript-of-eddc-ceo-evidence-to-parliamentary-committee-on-voter-engagement/




The missing 6,000 voters and the additional 15 canvassers!

 24 September 2014

The following response was received to a Freedom of Information request:

“The current position is that 2 canvassers have been appointed but ideally the Council requires a minimum of 10 to ensure that the work can be done as effectively as possible. We are therefore re-advertising the positions from next week (week beginning 29th September) with a view to recruiting more Canvassers. Canvassing will commence from the week beginning 27th October.”

Source: http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/09/24/the-missing-6000-voters-update-not-good-news/


7 October 2014

an email went out to all town and parish clerks in East Devon (and presumably to all internal EDDC staff) – coincidentally this is the date on the written evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee from Mark Williams.

Source: http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/10/13/eddc-appears-to-be-still-recruting-canvassers-writes-eda-chairman-paul-arnott/

On 14 October 2014 at the Parliamentary Committee on Voter engagement, Mr Williams was asked if all canvassers were now in post. He said YES. On that same day he sent out an urgent appeal to town and parish clerks to try to find additional canvassers as soon as possible to start work on 28 October 2014.

Source: http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/09/24/the-missing-6000-voters-update-not-good-news/


13 October 2014

when asked if all canvassers had now been recruited, Mr Williams said Yes.

Source: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/political-and-constitutional-reform-committee/voter-engagement-in-the-uk/oral/14118.html


14 October 2014

We learn from the Express and Echo website today that in all there are 25 canvassers who will start work on 28 October 2014.

“East Devon now has a pool of 25 canvassers, who will carry out household visits between 28 October and 28 November this year. The majority of those appointed have resulted from an internal advertisement among EDDC staff.”

Source: http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/East-Mid-Devon-district-council-chief-executives/story-23153767-detail/story.html


Anyone sniff the smell of panic and the sound of stable doors being bolted somewhere?



EDDC CEO Written Evidence to Parliament yesterday: his best work comes from “ripping up the rule book”

but only in East Devon, not in South Somerset!

Written evidence submitted by Mark Williams,
Chief Executive for East Devon District Council (VUk 158)

 Financing – The Council’s revenue budget is broadly funded 24% from the Council Tax, 25% from Government Grants and 51% from fees, charges & other income. As a matter of record, Government funding does not cover all the legal duties imposed on the Council and its officers.

 Impact of ‘Systems Thinking’ – Our greatest performance successes have come from ‘ripping up the rule book’ and departing from the stipulations of the Audit Commission (as was) under Comprehensive Performance Assessment/Comprehensive Area Assessment, or the DWP in terms of front/back office split for benefits processing. We have used ‘systems thinking’ derived from the Vanguard approach. Arguably the Electoral Commission is akin to the Audit Commission in the increasingly prescriptive nature of its ‘guidance’.

 Practical Experience – House to House canvassing is expensive and ineffective in a rural area, especially as it is carried out in late Oct/Nov. Assuming the property can be accessed, people don’t tend to answer their doors after dark and also resent being ‘harassed’ at the weekend. Is it fair to expose my staff to (real – not the risk of) verbal abuse and physical assault? How much should one spend chasing those who won’t vote?

 Dec 2013 Electoral Register – We achieved a 95% registration rate without house to house canvassing. This was secured by using the post, e-mail, phone calling and data matching of internal data sets.


 Voter Confusion – Why is it a duty to register but only a right to vote?

 Voter Alienation – Those who understand the system resent the existence of the Open Register and the fact that it is on general sale. As regards the Full Register they don’t necessarily trust credit reference agencies or registered politicial parties/individual candidates with their data. Fears of abuse/misuse etc.

 Voter Turnout – What is a realistic target for turnout?

Scottish Referendum 2014 European Elections 2014

84.6% 34.2% 41.1% 65.1% 72.6%

Current/Future State

 Making a success of IER – I am sure I am not the only ERO who has concerns about the transitional impact of IER and the practical implementation difficulties of administering the new system. A particular concern is the capacity/ability of our software supplier to make timely changes. We have provided all the information required of us by the Electoral Commission.

 Target No. Of Voters – Based on the 2011 Census the likely number of eligible voters is approximately 107,000 for the EDDC administrative area. As at the 7th October we had captured 100,735 registered electors (approx 94%).

 Budgetary Overspend – I have confirmed to my manager that she has an ‘open’ budget this year in order to ensure that we have enough staff resource to make a success of the new IER.

 House Canvass – We have recruited canvassers and will be carrying out a house to house canvass with the target objective that every occupied house in the EDDC area will have been visited. Out of a total 66,586 properties:

Returns = 56,936
Second Homes = 2,479
Empty Props = 1,522 Outstanding Properties = 5,649

7 October 2014


The missing 6,000 voters: Express and Echo and Western Morning News report on Parliamentary Select Committee investigation

Much interesting stuff in both articles with some amazing comments from the two Chief Executives!



“In written evidence to the committee, Mr Williams wrote: “How much should one spend chasing those who won’t vote?”

And just how much should be spent on those who DO want to vote, Mr Williams?

Does our East Devon District Council Chief Executive have a split personality when it comes to voter registration and engagement?

Our CEO, Mark Williams (shared with South Somerset) appears to have a split personality when it comes to voter registration.

In the large rural area of South Somerset, where door to door canvassing has always been done he sides with the Parliamentary Committee on Voter Registration which says that this is a mandatory step and it is breaking the law not to do it. A Committee member noted that the canvassing produced some 11,000- 12,000 extra names on the register in South Somerset.

In the large rural area of East Devon, where door to door canvassing has not been done since at least 2011, he sides with – er, well, himself and the ERO of Mid Devon – who say they are NOT breaking the law when they fail to do the canvassing. He says that this does not result in losing any voters as they are picked up “by other means” and that the other means are “more amiable” than going out to individuals on cold dark nights and trying to bribe them to register by saying that if you don’t you might not get a credit card. He did not address the concerns of EDA which says at least 6,000 voters were missing from the register at the last Euro election.

Here is a press release from the Electoral Commission, that says you MUST conduct house to house canvassing:


Here is the relevant part of the legislation. In South Somerset, Mr Williams follows it to the letter, in East Devon he chooses to believe that it gives him the right to be “flexible”.


“Duties of the Electoral Registration Officer

Steps to be taken by the Electoral Registration Officer

1.1 Under Section 9 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (RPA 1983) an Electoral Registration Officer has a duty to maintain registers of UK Parliamentary and local government electors containing the name, qualifying address and electoral number of those persons appearing to them to be entitled to be registered in it.

1.2 This duty on the Electoral Registration Officer to maintain the register includes, but is not limited to, the requirement to conduct an annual canvass in accordance with Section 10 of the RPA 1983 for the purpose of ascertaining any persons who are entitled to be registered. This annual canvass is conducted with reference to the relevant date of 15 October, the relevant date being the date on which a person must be resident at the address they are applying to be registered at.”

From http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1983/2/section/10/enacted

section 10 of the RotPA says:

“the registration officer shall—

(a) have a house to house or other sufficient inquiry made as to the persons entitled to be registered (excluding persons entitled to be registered in pursuance of a service declaration);”

In East Devon, Mr Williams relies on the last sentence to justify NOT canvassing, in South Somerset he relies on the information preceding it above to justify canvassing.

So, it seems Mr Williams has one rule for the Liberal Democrat controlled South Somerset District Council and one rule for the Conservative controlled East Devon District Council.

Will he explain the reasons for this difference at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting?