By-election with 15% turnout cost town council almost £13,000

Logo of Bradley Stoke Town Council.

A by-election held in March 2022 to fill a seat on Bradley Stoke Town Council that had become vacant following the death of a councillor cost local taxpayers a staggering £12,868, the Journal can reveal.

The by-election for one of the seven seats representing the Bradley Stoke South ward saw 1,077 votes being cast from a total electorate of 7,056 (a turnout of only 15.3 percent), which works out at almost £12 per ballot paper.

The cost far exceeds the £7,995 bill for the last by-election in the South ward, held in May 2021, when some costs were shared with the West of England Mayor and Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner elections held on the same day.

The £12,868 charge, levied by South Gloucestershire Council, which administers the local aspects of all elections, falls on the town council to pay.

Kitchen & Laundry Appliance Care, Bradley Stoke, Bristol.

An itemised breakdown of costs shows that the largest items of expenditure were £2,869 for administration, £2,438 for poll card postage and £2,145 for polling station staff.

Just over half the votes cast were postal votes. Only 534 people voted in person at the four polling stations, one of which (the Jubilee Centre) issued just 28 ballot papers over the 15 hours that it was open.

Until recently, one-off by-elections have cost the town council up to around £4,500 each, however a reduction in the number of wards in the town from seven to three (implemented after a Boundary Commission review prior to the May 2019 elections) means that a much larger number of people are now entitled to vote in most by-elections, resulting in higher costs.

The May 2022 South ward by-election was won by the Labour candidate Dayley Lawrence (pictured below), with 540 votes, ahead of Conservative candidate Kelly Cole on 530 votes.

Dayley Lawrence (2nd from right), the victorious Labour candidate, with supporters following announcement of the result.

The seat had become vacant following the sad passing of mayor Michael Hill (Conservative) in November 2021. Some members of the Conservative group on the town council criticised the Labour Party for (allegedly) calling a by-election, claiming that the “accepted practice” when a serving councillor dies is for the vacancy to be filled by co-option (this is when the remaining councillors chose a replacement themselves). The mayor, Cllr Tom Aditya (Conservative), said holding a by-election meant that council funds would be “unnecessarily wasted”.

The next regular four-yearly elections for all seats on the town council are due to take place in May 2023.

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