Covid: Bar for delaying election date 'quite high' – minister

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The bar for postponing English elections due on 6 May is “quite high”, minister Chloe Smith has said.

Voters are set to go to the polls in May for council and mayoral elections in England – and parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales.

However some MPs have said the vote should be postponed, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Smith said the date was being “kept under review” and that any change would need the support of MPs.

Responding to an urgent question she told the House of Commons safe and secure elections were a “cornerstone of democracy” and that the government had been working to ensure the polls could open in a “Covid-secure manner”.

She said the government would put in place measures to support absent voting including extending the ability to appoint a proxy.

“We would actively encourage anyone who is shielding or who would prefer not to attend a polling station to apply for an absent vote,” she said.

As well as appointing a proxy, absent voting can also refer to voting by post.

Local government officials have expressed concern about the cost and complexity of holding the vote in May, urging the government to settle on a clear position early.

Labour’s Cat Smith urged the government to ensure the elections aren’t postponed in an “irresponsible last-minute u-turn”, and said the scheduling of elections should come ahead of any party political advantage.

She said councils hit by cuts could not “afford to be caught on the hoof”.

In Scotland, any change to the election date would be a decision for the Scottish Parliament, rather than the government, and MSPs have introduced contingency plans which would allow the vote to be pushed back by up to six months.

And in Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said he is “committed” to the 6 May polling date but he wants to “allow some flexibility” – and a new law is being planned to make it possible to delay the election if needed.

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What elections are due to take place on 6 May?

  • Local council elections in England
  • Local and combined authority mayoral elections
  • Mayor of London and London Assembly elections
  • Police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales
  • Welsh parliamentary elections
  • Scottish parliamentary elections

Police and crime commissioner, council and mayoral elections had been due to take place in 2020 but were postponed due to Covid.

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