Being in charge of elections at EDDC means never having to say sorry and blaming your staff

Anyone else think this press release is another whitewash, hogwash, brainwash spin cycle.

Elections watchdog report confirms that complexity of polls contributed to errors

East Devon Returning Officer welcomes Electoral Commission comments and confirms improvements to service
The Electoral Commission has today (15 July) published its review of the multiple elections that took place on 7 May 2015 – an unusual occurrence, where for the first time since 1979 the General Election, District, Town and Parish Council elections all took place on the same day. To put this into context, in East Devon, election notices were published for a total of 119 elections covering four local authority boundaries (East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon and West Devon).

The report – which includes the elections watchdog’s assessment of the performance of Returning Officers – highlights the many administrative issues that arose across the country, ranging from ballot papers issued in error to printing mistakes. But it also confirms that: ‘…the complexity of the polls was a contributing factor: errors were predominantly made in areas where more than one election was taking place…such complexity must be considered as an increased risk factor in the planning and delivery of the election(s).’

A lack of experienced staff was another problem that affected administration efficiency: ‘As most ROs rely on a small dedicated team of staff to organise elections, they rarely have additional experienced staff available to augment the core team to support the management of combined polls or where there are complex cross-boundary issues to resolve.’

However, overall satisfaction was good, as the Electoral Commission’s report found that:

• ‘Nine in ten people surveyed (91%) said the elections in May were well-run.’
• ‘Nearly all (94%) of those who voted in person at a polling station were satisfied with the process.’
• ‘Nearly all (97%) of those who voted by post were satisfied with voting this way. Just over 16% of electors chose to vote by post at the General Election, at the 2010 General Election, the figure was 15%.’

East Devon’s Returning Officer (RO), Mark Williams, is referenced in the report due to his failure to meet two of the Electoral Commission performance standards, as a result of two administrative errors, which may have had a detrimental impact on voters and those standing for election. These were:

1. Incorrect guidance on the back of the postal voting statement that potentially affected a number of postal voters in the district elections.
In response to this comment, Mark Williams said: “Fortunately this matter was identified very speedily and prompt corrective action was taken. I fully accept that the error shouldn’t have happened and I apologised at the time. Even though we issued in excess of 11,000 postal votes, only 14 postal votes needed to be re-issued as a result of the error. It was clear that postal voters used their common sense and followed the instructions on the ballot paper rather than the general guidance on the back of the postal voting statement.

“I know that comment has been made about the cost of the mail-out to those potentially affected by the mistake, but I can assure Council Tax payers that they have not been affected by this, as the cost was covered by ring fenced grants, which we received from HM Government.”

2. The second issue related to a temporary 24-hour arrangement that applied to district council postal votes as a result of concerns raised by a registered political party.
Commenting on this issue, Mark Williams said: “All ROs come under intense pressure during an election period and the Electoral Commission’s report is a timely reminder that we must comply with guidance and legislation despite the pressure of an election. In the case of this matter, it affected 12 postal votes for the district council, all of which were actually included in the count.”

Overall, Mark Williams feels that the 2015 elections were an intense, but successful experience, although he is at pains to point out that he and his team will be redoubling their efforts to ensure that the lessons learnt from these multiple elections are not repeated in the future. “I have a young team who did their very best to provide an excellent service to electors. I acknowledge that we fell short – as highlighted by the Electoral Commission – but when put in context, all 110,000 electors had the opportunity to cast their vote and the election results were robust and not challenged.

“We will be working with the Electoral Commission to identify and implement practical measures that will improve the voting process. Developing the resources of the elections and electoral registration teams is a key immediate priority and we are looking to recruit an additional officer for these services, who will be fully trained in the use of the specialist software that is used for electoral registration and elections. It is important that the high levels of trust that voters place in us are sustained.”

A report on the issues that arose from the combined Parliamentary, District and Town & Parish Council elections will be presented to the Scrutiny Committee by the Returning Officer Mark Williams on 30 July 2015.

Knowle sold to Pegasus today

Interesting that they would take it on without planning permission (or maybe it is an option to purchase dependent on planning permission ) …. but presumably they assume it will be a straightforward formality which will be rubber-stamped when the time comes.

Mark Williams early exit from South Somerset

Wonder if there will be a gagging agreement between EDDC and SSDC re their discussions and decisions about Mr Williams sudden and unanticipated early exit as part-time CEO at South Somerset?

South Somerset will be losing over £100,000 on the deal and it seems EDDC is seamlessly doubling the CEO’s hours, costing us a fair old whack too as this will not have been included in this year’s budget.

We will probably never know.

Still, at least Mr Cohen should have much less to do with his boss back in the driving seat full time, which can only be a good thing. He will have time to reflect on the Information Commissioner’s comments that EDDC (under his lead for the relication project) was considered discourteous, unhelpful and misleading at the recent court case and he can think of ways to rehabilitate EDDC’s reputation – something that could take many hours.

EDDC Freedom of Information overload: it’s all the fault of heir hunters!

It’s Happy-Clappy Midweek Herald day again – all the local good news (apart from shed burglaries) until we get to page 25. There we find a story that EDDC wants to recruit an extra officer to deal with Freedom of Information requests.

Yes, you might think, they certainly need one after two high-profile run-ins with the Information Commissioner recently, one of which led to EDDC appearing in court (in a case which they lost) and one which criticised them for not offering basic guidance on what was needed for them to comply with a request. Both cases involved serious questions about relocation from the Knowle.

But no, it isn’t planning issues (which, from the whatdotheyknow website form a large part of their enquiries), it’s:

companies asking questions about council contracts


heir hunters asking about public burials and next of kin!

Now, this raises a fair few questions.

Why are there so many requests from companies asking about council contracts? We know from Information Commissioner v EDDC that the general public are certainly not allowed to see contracts – commercial confidentiality is always cited as the reason not to provide information. But it seems that companies may be getting information we don’t get.

And surely heir-hunters are seeking information already in the public domain.

Whitewash, hogwash and brainwash – with all the washes being given a fast spin by EDDC’s poorly-named “Communications” Department.