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Contact: Jonathan Goodrum, Senior Governance Officer. Tel. 01302 736709
Declarations of Interest, if any.
No declarations were made at the meeting.
In referring to minute number 3 (Council decision making arrangements in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic), Councillor Mark Houlbrook enquired as to the status of the Member survey proposed for the autumn on the subject of virtual meetings and Members’ needs in terms of devices/ICT equipment. In response, the Assistant Director of Legal and Democratic Services thanked Councillor Houlbrook for the prompt and stated that the survey would be progressed immediately, following which appropriate feedback would be provided. He added that he would also refer the findings to the Member Development Working Group as the relevant body. In reply to a comment by the Chair with regard to providing support to those Members without suitable devices and who were having to use their mobile phones to connect to remote meetings, the Assistant Director confirmed that all Members had been offered Council laptops to enable them to fully participate in remote meetings. He explained that despite this encouragement, there was a small number of Members who had still not taken up the offer for various reasons, but the support would continue to be offered on an ongoing basis.
RESOLVED that, subject to the above comments, the minutes of the meeting held on 7th July 2020 be approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair.
The Committee received a report which provided an update to Members on a number of key work streams being undertaken by the Electoral Services Team in relation to the Register of Electors and Annual Canvass.
The Electoral Services Manager updated the Committee on the latest figures in relation to the responses received from properties in this year’s canvass. It was noted that as a result of canvass reforms this year, only properties where all the electors could not be matched against national and/or local data were required to respond. The aim of the canvass reform was to deliver a more efficient system by which Electoral Registration Officers could maintain their electoral registers with no negative effect on citizens, or on the accuracy and completeness of the registers.
It was reported that since the report’s publication, the number of properties outstanding now stood at 14,734 (in relation to un-matched properties that required a response). It was also reported that the Electoral Services Team had been directly contacting those properties defined as Care Homes and Homes of Multiple Occupancy, due to the high turnaround in these types of properties to establish that everything was as up to date as possible.
In the absence of carrying out household visits due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place in Doncaster at the time, the Electoral Services Team had been collecting information in other ways, including a telephone outbound canvass, contacting electors by email and data matching and data mining against Council records. The Council’s Communications team was also assisting by sending messages to encourage non-responders to respond.
Discussion followed, during which the officers answered a wide range of questions from Members, including the following:-
The Committee received a report which provided an update on the upcoming Elections scheduled for 6th May 2021.
Members noted that due to the postponement of elections that had been scheduled to take place in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, these polls and others were all now due to be held in May 2021, which would make it a particularly challenging year.
The polls scheduled to take place in Doncaster on Thursday 6th May 2021 as well as those postponed from 2020 were as follows:
· Borough Elected Mayor
· all-out Borough Councillors
· all-out Town/Parish Councillors
· Police and Crime Commissioner
· Edenthorpe Neighbourhood Planning Referendum
In presenting the report, the Assistant Director of Legal and Democratic Services explained that he intended to update all Members after today’s meeting on the latest position as regards preparations for the Elections. He advised that as things currently stood, the Elections were expected to go ahead as planned, and there was no expectation that these would be conducted on the basis of 100% postal votes.
The Assistant Director explained that if the Elections were conducted in the usual way, the pandemic would bring additional logistical challenges, such as having to ensure that social distancing could be adhered to, both in polling stations and at the count venue, ensuring that masks were worn and hand gels were available, and considering other potential safety measures, such as placing key electoral staff in ‘bubbles’.
In reply to a comment by a Member, the Assistant Director confirmed that while there was a possibility that the elections might be postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic, in the meantime it was necessary to continue planning for the elections in the normal way. He also explained, with regard to the possibility of the Government stating that the elections should be conducted on the basis of postal voting only, that it was not too late for this to happen, but that it would be a huge administrative challenge.
Members were informed that Risk Assessments would be undertaken to ensure the safety of those staff working and those electors voting in the polling stations, and for the counting of postal votes and the main election counts. Further guidance from the Government was expected as to how to accommodate observers/attendees at the opening of the postal votes and at the Election counts. This could possibly take the form of restricting attendees to candidates and agents only, and not allowing any guests, as would normally be the case.
In reply to a question, the Assistant Director confirmed that it was intended to use the Mary Woollett Centre as usual for the opening of postal votes, but different options would be considered this time, such as employing fewer staff but over longer hours to assist with social distancing, and locating the scanning staff in a different room. Doncaster Racecourse would be used as the count venue.
RESOLVED to note the contents of the report.