An extraordinary meeting of the city council is being held later this month to decide whether to change how often Derby people go to the polls in local elections.
At present, Derby follows what is called a thirds system, meaning that a third of the city’s 51 seats come up for election every year and in the fourth year there is no election at all.
Last November, the full council resolved to undertake a public consultation with regards to changing the current system and replacing it with a whole council election every four years.
The consultation took place between January 27 and March 23 and 501 people responded.
Almost 83% of those who responded thought they would prefer whole council elections, with just 15.6% preferring to maintain the existing situation.
People cited stability and consistency, financial savings in not having annual elections and the ability for longer-term planning and decision-making for the reasons they wanted to see change.
In addition, the council received unanimous support for whole council elections from the board of Marketing Derby, an organisation tasked with attracting investment to the city.
Marketing Derby director John Forkin said: “We believe that the benefits of change are considerable, including financial savings of almost £500,000 and greater stability.”
Similar reasons were also put forward by Steve Hall, chair of the Derby Renaissance Board, which includes representatives from Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Bombardier.
Mr Hall added: “We very much hope that the authority will take this opportunity to make a significant and positive change.”
In considering the possible change when the city council meets on September 23, members need to also decide when this should commence if change is voted in.
A date of 2022 formed the basis of the public consultation exercise and would have immediately followed a fallow electoral year in 2021 under the existing cycle.
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the postponement of local elections scheduled for May 2020 by twelve months, with the next fallow year not due until 2025.
Additionally, two-thirds majority of the members in attendance at the extraordinary meeting are needed to pass the resolution to change.
In a similar consultation exercise carried out in 2016, 68.1% of 281 respondents were in favour of a move to whole council elections.
Soon afterwards, a change in the electoral cycle was rejected following opposition from the opposition Conservative group.
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Derby’s opposition Labour group has been asking when a meeting to debate the possible change is going to take place.
The Labour group has consistently called for whole council elections when in power and in opposition.
Councillor Baggy Shanker, Derby Labour group leader, said: “I understood that the item would be discussed and voted on an extraordinary meeting ahead of the July full council meeting but this did not happen.
“I also asked Councillor Mick Barker at the same full council meeting about the sharing the response from the consultation and he said it was delayed because of Covid-19 and also the possibility of local government reorganisation.
“Changing the electoral cycle is a huge and extremely important issue for our city that if agreed will make a massive positive impact on investment and jobs for residents by creating a much more stable environment.”
In the next few weeks, a Government White Paper on local government reorganisation will be published and whatever changes are proposed to council boundaries, it is almost inevitable that four-year election cycles will become standard everywhere.
So it remains to be seen whether or not the council needs to vote this in now or not and what each group intends to vote after the debate.
The independent councillors on the city council could also have influence over the situation.
Council leader Councillor Chris Poulter said: “Councillors will need to consider the consultation results and evidence available. Two thirds of those present will need to agree, if the council is to move to all out, four- yearly elections beginning in 2022.
“The Conservative group considers that a move to all out elections may almost be inevitable but there are many emerging factors to carefully consider prior to that happening.”
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Councillor Ruth Skelton, leader of the city’s Liberal Democrats, was part of the Marketing Derby Board which agreed to a change.
But she said: “When the view of Marketing Derby came to their board meeting, I couldn’t endorse that view as I don’t agree with it.
“Some of them want ‘stability’ that is being able to deal with the same people leading the council for years. To me this is not accepting that democracy by its very nature brings change.
“The council is not like a business, it must be democratically accountable. This requires regular elections. It’s also worth noting that many of the senior business figures in the city don’t actually live in the city.”
And Councillor Alan Graves senior, leader of the Reform Derby group, added: “The real problem with all out elections is that you get stuck with the council you cannot replace for four years.”