LGIU and Vuelio 2022 Elections Bulletin – 28 April
1 week until polling day…
This week's highlights
With the election drawing closer and closer, the Conservative’s seemingly know Johnson’s fate is on the line following partygate. Tory justice minister Victoria Atkins has been accused of helping to orchestrate a rebellion against the Prime Minister after dozens of MPs refused to block an investigation into whether Boris Johnson knowingly misled parliament.
Atkins played a key role in trying to persuade up to 40 ministers, parliamentary private secretaries, and senior MPs to abstain on a Government amendment designed to wreck Labour’s motion calling for a Commons inquiry. Those who work alongside him in No 10 put his chances of long-term survival no higher than 50:50.
The Tories have not published a local election manifesto in England, as normal, and claimed that instead, their campaign was launched at the spring party conference. Johnson is also yet to appear as the face of the campaign after being ‘airbrushed’ from campaign material, as well as not being present within the community. However, the Prime Minister said he would fight for every vote in the run-up to widespread council polls on the 5th of May in England, Scotland, and Wales.
In Scotland, with not long left until polling day the ruling Scottish National Party launched their manifesto for the local elections. At the launch speech, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: ‘The immediate priority of every SNP councillor will be supporting families through the current cost of living crisis – not just in words but in action’ and asked voters if Scotland should become a “normal independent country” as she placed independence firmly at the heart of the SNP’s campaign.
Meanwhile The Royal Town Planning Institute has published its Scottish Local Government elections manifesto highlighting that nearly a third of planning development staff have been cut since 2009 and there has been a 42% cut in real terms for planning authorities’ budgets in the same time period.
The last full week of campaigning got underway this week as Welsh political parties are stepping up their efforts to win votes. Labour currently has the largest number of councillors heading into the elections and majority control of seven local authorities. Party leader Mark Drakeford has said they are focusing on the issues that matter to the people; the cost-of-living crisis and creating a stronger, fairer, and greener Wales. Welsh Conservatives are also fighting hard to earn the votes of residents with leader Andrew RT Davies claiming that their candidates ‘have the best plans for their own areas.’ The elections have come at a difficult time for the conservatives after Boris Johnson remains under pressure over party gate after visiting Rhyl on Monday.
|Who runs the councils in No Overall Control?
LGIU research team crunches the numbers and shares insight into the NOC councils with elections this year across England, Wales and Scotland. Everything you need to know here.
North Yorkshire elections to set stage for unitary authority
The BBC looks at the upcoming local elections in North Yorkshire, which is “facing its biggest change in almost 50 years”, with 90 councillors to be elected in 89 new electoral divisions under a new unitary authority. Councillors will serve for a year as councillors on North Yorkshire County Council, and then as councillors on the new North Yorkshire Council once it is established next year. The creation of the new unitary authority is expected to lead to greater devolution of powers and funding, and it will be for the new unitary authority, working with City of York Council, to negotiate any new devolution deal that establishes a combined authority and elected mayor.
The outlook in Sunderland and Dudley
The Guardian looks at the outlook for the local elections in Sunderland. Labour currently has a majority of six councillors on Sunderland City Council, and the paper notes that the former mining village of Rickleton, “core Labour territory for generations”, last year elected a Conservative councillor, one of six elected as Labour lost nine seats. Elsewhere, the Financial Times looks to Dudley Council, where the Conservatives gained 12 seats last year to gain control of the council, and says the town “will be seen as a bellwether for whether the Tories can hold on to other former ‘red wall’ Labour towns across the midlands and northern England”. Read LGIU’s guide to the local elections here.
Financial Times | The Guardian
Talk of austerity turning off voters
Cllr Graeme Miller, the Labour leader of Sunderland City Council, talks to the Independent ahead of the local elections – saying that while a decade of funding cuts have seen budgets for libraries, social care and cultural services slashed, the public has become “tone deaf” to talk of austerity. “People just want to see services being delivered”, he says, “So, if you’ve spent too long saying ‘austerity austerity austerity’, people are going to turn away from you. We need to get on with being positive.” He adds: “Sunderland has lost more than £350m – it’s almost impossible to live with – but what have to do is deliver either more with the same or the same with less.”
Conservative support falls in the Red Wall
Polling by the More in Common think tank has found that Conservative support among Red Wall voters has collapsed from 56% at the last general election to 38% – while 61% of all voters believe the Prime Minister should resign over the Partygate controversy. The poll also identified falling support for the Conservatives in Blue Wall areas in the south of England, where the party faces losing ground to the Liberal Democrats. A former Cabinet minister tells the Telegraph: “A lot of very good Tory councillors are going to lose their seats. Either we could have drawn a line in February or we draw a line after the elections. But the more noise we make now, the more damage we’re going to do.”
The Daily Telegraph
Conservative MPs warn of Partygate impact
The i and the Financial Times report that Conservative MPs are expressing fears that the Partygate scandal could cost the party at the local elections. One senior backbencher tells the i that the scandal “is going to sacrifice a lot of good councillors and we will lose control of councils”. “Boris Johnson thinks that he is the Conservative Party”, they add, “he’s not. It was thriving before him, and it will thrive after he has gone.” And while a ConservativeHome survey found 58% of Conservative members believe the Partygate scandal is overblown, one Conservative MP tells the Financial Times that it is “still coming up on the doorstep”, while another warns that Boris Johnson is “an existential threat to the Conservative Party”.
PM insists Conservatives 'fighting for every possible vote'
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Conservative Party is “fighting for every possible vote” in the local elections, arguing that the “case is clear: it’s Conservative councils who charge you less”. “We’re the party that does more to empty your bins and fill in potholes”, he said on a visit to Bury, “Conservative councils fill in four times as many potholes. We believe in delivering value for money.” Conservative councillors, he said, “run councils more efficiently. I think of the work councillors put in, cutting waste, keeping libraries open and making sure they deliver value for money.” You can read LGIU’s guide to the local elections here.
Local elections are no 'open goal' for Labour
Election experts Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher look forward to the local elections for the Sunday Times, saying that while Partygate and the cost-of-living crisis “would seem to offer Labour an open goal”, it “may not be as simple as that”. “Most of the more than 4,350 seats falling vacant were last contested in 2018”, they note, “when the party posted its best performance at local level since 2012”, although “any swing to Labour now will make the Tories lose ground and confirm Labour’s current opinion poll lead”. Outside England’s bigger cities, they note, the Conservatives “are defending the largest number of seats”, and are “most at risk of being caught in a pincer movement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats”. You can read LGIU’s guide to the local elections here.
The Sunday Times
Labour ballot cheat Ayaz Khan campaigns for son in local election
A postal vote fraudster accused of turning Birmingham into a banana republic has been canvassing for Labour on the local election campaign trail. Ayaz Khan was one of six Birmingham councillors found by a judge to have benefited from “widespread fraud” during a previous local election campaign. He was suspended from Labour after Richard Mawrey QC, a High Court judge, found evidence of vote rigging during the 2004 local campaign.
Khan was one of six Labour councillors and a party worker who were accused of masterminding widespread corruption by systematically forging ballot papers at the 2004 local elections. They all strenuously denied that they abused the postal ballot system, but Mawrey ruled that they were guilty of corrupt and illegal practice.
Voters comfortable with STV, and more polarised
Polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice has argued, in a paper for the Electoral Reform Society, that voters have increasingly adapted to the single transferable vote (STV) system used in Scotland’s local elections, and have become increasingly polarised, with Yes supporters “less likely to give a lower preference to a unionist candidate” and vice versa. The “pattern of voting behaviour in last year’s Holyrood election suggests that this polarisation of Yes and No supporters may well be even more marked in this year’s local ballot”, he says, and the greater likelihood of SNP and Scottish Green voters giving each other lower preference votes is likely to reinforce “the impression that there is momentum behind support for independence”. You can read LGIU’s briefing on the local elections in Scotland and the party manifestos here.
The path to gender equality in local government
Susan Dalgety at the Scotsman looks at progress towards gender equality in local government, saying analysis of the candidates standing in the upcoming elections “suggests little has improved” since 2017, which saw women take 29% of seats. Looking at the candidates standing for election to Scottish Borders Council, East Lothian Council and City of Edinburgh Council, she says, around 37% are women. The solution to the continued imbalance, she argues, is “not simply to encourage more women to stand for election, though that does help, but to introduce mandatory quotas so that political parties have to field a balanced ticket, opening up their selection processes to public scrutiny”.
Erosion of Conservative vote could 'fragment' unionism
Polling expert Professor John Curtice has told Good Morning Scotland that it has “been clear for some time that the Conservatives may well be struggling to retain the second place they have north of the Border” – and that the erosion of support for the party could impact any future independence campaign. If the party slips into third place, he says, it would “be the first time since 2016 that the Conservatives have not been the principle political voice of unionism north of the Border”, and the “further fragmentation of the political voice of unionism north of the Border is not necessarily something that either Douglas Ross or the Prime Minister would want to encounter”. You can read LGIU’s guide to the local elections here.
SNP launch local election manifesto
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has launched the SNP’s local election manifesto in Greenock, pledging a “pandemic level response” to the cost of living crisis. The manifesto includes pledges to improve energy efficiency in homes, to protect council tax reduction schemes, to establish a “parental transition fund” to help parents get back to work, and more support for walking and cycling. SNP councillors, Ms Sturgeon said, will also “support the Scottish Government’s clear mandate to hold a referendum on independence in the first half of this parliamentary term” and support the Scottish Government’s aim to build more than 100,000 affordable homes by the end of the decade. You can read LGIU’s guide to the local elections here.
Scottish Labour leader campaigns in Dundee
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has visited Dundee, saying the “issues people are raising are very similar to other parts of the country around the cost of living crisis”, along with “wasted money around individual projects, challenges around cleansing, and a general feel that after almost 15 years in government perhaps it’s time for a change”. The party, he said, wants to “elect strong local champions that will fight for Dundee”. Questioned on the party’s outlook in Aberdeen, where councillors were suspended for years after going into coalition with the Scottish Conservatives, Mr Sarwar said there is a “positive record of delivery in Aberdeen”, but that there are “lessons to be learned about how decisions are made and how we operate internally as a political party”.
The Courier | The Press and Journal
The SNP's green city plans
The Sunday Times looks at the SNP’s plans to “deliver a greener future if the party is elected to lead Glasgow and Edinburgh next month”, with green projects including miniature urban forests, a “roof garden cap” over the M8 motorway, and more allotments and city parks. Glasgow City Council member Cllr Angus Millar says the party “is putting forward bold proposals to make our city greener and transform public spaces to make them more appealing and accessible”, and will “work to make our homes more energy efficient and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”
The case for coalitions
The Herald looks at debate around Scottish Labour’s opposition to the party’s councillors forming coalitions in the wake of the local elections. Independent pollster Mark Diffley says Scotland’s single transferable vote system “is one of the reasons why there are so many coalitions in local government – another being a high number of independent candidates standing too”. He notes the backlash against then-leader Ed Miliband’s refusal to rule out forming a coalition after the 2015 general election as a reason for wariness on the part of Labour, although councillors, Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Labour leader Cllr Elaine Murray, have spoken in support of coalitions – with Cllr Murray warning that the alternative to her coalition with the SNP would likely be a minority Scottish Conservative administration.
SNP accused of 'levelling down' Scotland
The Scottish Conservatives have accused the SNP of “levelling down” Scotland over their 15 years in power – with local government spokesperson Miles Briggs saying the Scottish Government has “centralised more and more power to Holyrood, and neglected local communities”, and that Scots have seen “violent crime rise, school standards slip and public services decline, as their local areas have become a shadow of what they once were”. The party has highlighted Audit Scotland data showing that those in the most deprived areas have a healthy life expectancy two decades lower than those in the least deprived, while drug-related hospital admissions are 21 times higher in the most deprived areas, and the education attainment gap is “wider than ever”. For more on Scotland’s local election manifestos, read LGIU’s briefing here.
Conservatives to introduce 'countryside education day'
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said the party’s councillors will “introduce a countryside education day to ensure our school pupils gain an insight into a rural way of life and see first-hand the challenges of farming and food production”, accusing the Scottish Government of being “obsessively focused on the central belt” to the exclusion of rural and remote communities. “There is an almost endless list of policy areas”, Mr Ross said, “where the SNP have over-promised and under-delivered for rural Scotland.”
Herald Scotland | The Press and Journal
Scottish Greens seek first Fife seat
The Scottish Green Party launched its local manifesto in Aberdour at the weekend, as it bids to win its first ever seat on Fife Council. Candidate Ryan Blackadder, who is standing in the Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay ward, said that for “far too long we have seen our council prioritise roadbuilding and commuter belt developments while our town centres are hollowed out and neglected. It’s clear from the conversations I’ve had on the doorsteps that Fifers want change.” The party has pledged to improve walking and cycling routes, protect green spaces, introduce Gaelic education, and establish a public bus company.
Scottish Family Party focuses on education
The BBC highlights the Scottish Family Party’s local election campaign, with the party standing 84 candidates in this year’s polls. The party has no national manifesto, with leader Richard Lucas saying the party will “listen to the genuine needs of local people”, accusing local authorities of having been “totally out of touch” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The party opposes abortion and LGBT-inclusive education, and is calling on councillors to “challenge the government policy” on education and “try to promote deviation from it”.
Charity urges candidates to back drug recovery services
Addiction recovery charity Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR Scotland) has urged candidates standing in the local elections to back a five-point pledge to improve drug recovery services, with initial police reports for 2021 showing an average of at least one drug-related death a day in the Greater Glasgow area. FAVOR Scotland’s CEO, Annemarie Ward, said it is “essential that Scotland’s politicians don’t forget that more than a thousand people are dying in this country every year from drug addiction and most of the people who die come from our poorest communities and will be hit far harder than everyone else”.
Local elections: Post-polling day funding squeeze warning
Council budgets could still be squeezed after next week’s elections despite more funding from the Welsh Government. A report from Cardiff University has stated that despite a growing budget, “spending pressures are still likely to exceed councils’ revenue” in the coming years. Most of the spending pressures will come from the growing cost of delivering social care and even with the 4% increases in council tax which will top up their budgets, the Welsh Governments will still need to balance the books through savings.
Wales council elections: Call for ethnic minority candidate quotas
There are calls for political parties in Wales to run a minimum number of ethnically diverse candidates in elections. In 2017, less than 2% of all candidates identified as being from an ethnic minority background and campaigners have decided that it is time to act. Race-based shortlists would ensure that 5.2% of ethnic minorities in Wales would get representation but three majority parties in Wales have said they are against such quotas.
Elections 2022: Plaid suspend Conwy councillor for running against colleague
Plaid Cymru have suspended Conwy Councillor Trystan Lewis for standing against colleague Susan Lloyd-Williams because she moved to Denbighshire. A party source has said he was suspended pending a disciplinary and he had stood as an independent without informing his group. Susan has spoken out of her disappointment at her former colleague but said she was “proud to stand again to seek the mandate of the community” of which she has known for over two decades.
Of the English councils holding elections, most are electing a third or half of their councillors. These seats were last up for election in 2018. The remainder are electing all their councillors.
Conservatives in Maidstone had a good night in 2021, taking overall control of the council (and almost immediately taking steps to move the authority to all-out elections, which will take place in 2024). Recent defections have left the local Lib Dems with a depleted group, but they will be hoping to regain some ground here.
In Worthing, the Conservatives lost overall control last year but continued to run the council as a minority administration. Pressure from central government to deliver housing has been a key local issue, with the council and local MP united in their efforts to prevent the development of greenfield land.
Last year Southampton was retaken by the Conservatives after nine years of Labour control. The authority remains finely balanced – if Labour can flip a single seat, the council will be back in no overall control. Two seats, and control rests with Labour again.
And finally… a counting error at the 2021 local elections saw the wrong winner announced for a ward in Cherwell.
Only a handful of councils in this region are holding elections this year. Politically volatile, Plymouth currently has a Conservative leader running a minority administration, but suspensions and resignations within the Conservative group since the 2021 election mean that Labour now has the same number of councillors. At time of writing, the Conservative leader is awaiting the results of a no confidence vote.
Somerset has its first elections as a newly created unitary, electing nearly double the number of councillors as the old county council had but using the same boundaries. The Conservatives controlled the county council, although the Lib Dems do well in many parts of the county.
And finally… Bristol are holding a referendum on whether the city should continue to have a directly elected mayor.
For further analysis check out LGIU’s One to Watch guide to the 2022 local elections.
All 32 local authorities in Scotland are holding elections. Scottish local elections use the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system to elect multi-member wards. Elections were last held in 2017.
The 2021 Holyrood elections SNP won their fourth successive term and entered into a coalition with the Scottish Greens. It will be interesting to see how local, national and international problems play in the minds of the electorate at the 2022 local elections. As well as the local and community issues affecting voters in each council area. Turnout of voters is also likely to have an impact and different council areas have in the past had very different levels of voter turnout.
Alba Party failed to gain any seats in the 2021 Holyrood elections, but do have 16 sitting councillors as a result of defections and independent councillors joining the party. Even in Aberdeen, where leader Alex Salmond stood on the regional list, the party received only 2.1% of the list vote: they could struggle to defend their seats this May.
The 2017 local elections left Scotland with no party in majority control. Some councils have minority administrations; others operate power sharing agreements and coalitions. For many councillors, who are often working in cooperation with councillors from other parties, this has changed the way local politics looks and works. For others, the experience has been less positive and it can disrupt the relationship between the central party and its local branches.
The SNP will be hoping to defend all positions and especially those in authorities they have a lead role in, including Glasgow, Dundee and East Ayrshire which they currently run as a minority administration. Minor gains in areas like West Dunbartonshire, South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire could see them gain overall control.
This is the second round of local elections that 16- and 17-year-olds and qualifying foreign nationals can vote in.
For further analysis check out LGIU’s One to Watch guide to the 2022 local elections.
All 22 Welsh local authorities are holding elections under new boundaries. Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly and Torfaen will be offering ‘flexible voting’, with many voters able to cast their vote at a central polling station ahead of election day.
Boundary changes mean almost every council – with the exception of Pembrokeshire and Rhondda Cynon Taf – has seen changes to the number of councillors it elects. The Vale of Glamorgan has gained the most – seven – while Blaneau Gwent has lost the most – nine.
The 2017 local elections were disappointing for Labour, who lost over 100 councillors and control of three councils. The Conservatives and Plaid Cymru, by contrast, made good gains. However, many commentators agreed that the Senedd elections in Wales last year were a success story for Labour, as Welsh Labour gained a seat and improved their constituency and list vote share. The Conservatives gained five seats and Plaid Cymru one – but Plaid Cymru’s vote share fell. The collapse of the UKIP vote meant all three parties picked up seats.
Bar any unexpected electoral earthquakes, expect Labour to have a decent night – possibly even gaining back some of the seats and councils it lost in 2017.
This will be the first local elections that 16- and 17-year-olds and qualifying foreign nationals can vote in.
For further analysis check out LGIU’s One to Watch guide to the 2022 local elections.
More than 30,000 young people have registered to vote for next week’s Northern Ireland Assembly election, and overall, the total electorate is now at 1.3m, almost 120,000 more than at the 2019 Westminster elections. Issues identified for young people include the Irish Language Bill, improving education opportunities, the health service, and tackling climate change.
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has said unionists might vote for her party in the aftermath of Brexit, which she described as being ‘completely mishandled’ by the DUP. She added that her party wants to find ways of ensuring the protocol is improved, and to provide ‘certainty and legal clarity to business’. The last decade in Northern Ireland has seen both a loss of the unionist majority and the growth of parties like Alliance in the centre ground.
The SDLP this week pledged to put families first, with a cost-of-living plan which included proposals for a £200 payment for every household and a children’s future fund which included investing £500 for every child when they’re born and increasing free childcare provision. Party leader Colum Eastwood accused other parties of being ‘obsessed with the NI protocol or with their own position at Stormont’.
TUV leader Jim Allister called on DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to make clear his intentions following speculation that if elected to the Assembly, he may appoint a DUP colleague to the role and retain his MP seat. Jim Allister said voters will feel ‘tricked’ if Donaldson stays at Westminster.
Polling continues to suggest Sinn Féin will become the largest individual party, although the DUP are slightly up since February. If the polls are correct this would mean Northern Ireland could be led by a Republican first minister for the first time. Given that polls suggest both parties’ vote share has dropped as compared to 5 years ago, the battle between the two largest parties is likely to be which will lose more seats. Whilst the DUP has refused to say if it would accept the role of deputy minister, Sinn Féin have avoided talking of taking the first minister role or prioritising a vote on Irish unification post-election.
Scottish councils are given a block grant from the Scottish Government, which amounts to around 85% of their net revenue expenditure. The remainder of their expenditure is funded mostly from local taxation.
How much do councils spend and on what?
For 2016-17 Scotland’s local authorities have set a net revenue expenditure budget of £11.7 billion for spending on all services. This is £153 million less (1.3%) than the budget set for 2015-16. Of this, £4.8 billion is for Education, and £3.1 billion is for Social Work.
Local government accounts for almost a quarter of all public expenditure in England.
Local government in England is funded through:
- grants from central government (about 52%) made up mainly of redistributed business rates, including the Revenue Support Grant and the Public Health grant;
- and locally raised funding (about 48%) which includes council tax (charged to local people), retained local business rates income, and other sources such as car parks, parking permits, rents and the hire of sports facilities.
Local authority spending can be divided into revenue expenditure and capital expenditure. On the whole, revenue expenditure is financed through a balance of central government grant, retained non-domestic (business) rates and the locally raised council tax. Capital expenditure is principally financed through central government grants, borrowing and capital receipts. (See Local Government Financial Statistics 2021.)
The devolved nations have their own financial settlements and structures – find out more here.
Central government describes revenue expenditure (PDF document) as “mainly for meeting employee costs, such as the salaries of staff; procurement costs, transport, fuel and building maintenance; levies paid to other local authorities which provide a service (for example, a metropolitan district pays a waste disposal authority); payment of awards/benefits on behalf of central government (for example, mandatory rent allowances) and recharges to other accounts.”
Total revenue expenditure for all English local authorities in 2020-21: £98.3bn
Central government describes capital expenditure (PDF document) as “mainly for buying, constructing or improving physical assets such as buildings – schools, houses, libraries, museums, police and fire stations etc.; land – for development, roads, playing fields etc.; and vehicles, plant and machinery – including street lighting, road signs etc.”
Total capital expenditure for all English local authorities in 2019-20: £26.3bn
This information is taken from the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government’s Statistical Release 2020 (PDF document). The devolved nations have their own financial settlements and structures – find out more here.
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Ipsos / LGIU polling on UK attitudes to local elections
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