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Bid to switch Maidstone borough voting to full council elections fails

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A planned shake-up of Maidstone's electoral system which could have saved £80,000 a year has failed at a vote.

The move away from electing a third of the borough council every year to all representatives in a single ballot once every four years is among the key changes sought by the Conservative administration of Cllr David Burton since his party took control last May.

The council meeting was held in the sports hall at Maidstone Leisure Centre
The council meeting was held in the sports hall at Maidstone Leisure Centre

But while a motion supporting the switch, proposed by Cllr Jonathan Purle at a full council meeting on Wednesday, won a vote, it did not reach the necessary two-thirds majority required to make a change to the constitution.

Cllr Purle warned that failure to switch to full elections would likely result in the council losing its ability to maintain single or two-member wards at the outcome of a review of ward boundaries by the Electoral Commission.

The Commission is known to favour three-member wards in boroughs that elect by thirds, so that each ward has the same number of opportunities to vote.

The potential loss of single-member and two-members wards was the reason cited by Cllr Steve Munford (Ind) of Boughton Monchelsea, and Cllr John Perry (Con) of Staplehurst, for backing the motion, saying their wards would lose their unique identity if rolled up with another to make a three-member ward.

Councillors heard that a recent public survey had been answered by 3,130 people, 72% of whom had been in favour of full council elections.

Cllr Jonathan Purle (Con)
Cllr Jonathan Purle (Con)

But Cllr Paul Harper (Lab) dismissed the value of the survey, saying the information given to the public had been loaded to emphasise the possible financial savings - estimated at £80,000 a year - and not the other aspects. He said elections every year ensured councillors "remained aligned with public feelings."
Cllr Harper said full council elections always resulted in a "cliff edge", where a potentially large number of new councillors resulted in paralysis for the council while they learnt the ropes.

Cllr David Rose (Con) disagreed, saying there was more paralysis under the present system, as important decisions were delayed during the election "purdah" period, and that happened three time every four years, instead of once.

Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem) replied: "No committee meeting has ever been cancelled because of election purdah."

Cllr Simon Webb (Con) said the outcome of the survey had indicated "very clearly" what voters wanted, which council leader David Burton (Con) reinforced, saying: "I've yet to find any resident in favour of what we currently do."

Cllr Paul Harper (Lab)
Cllr Paul Harper (Lab)

He said: "They are confused. They want a clean process. They want this change."

The voting was 29 votes to 21.

Cllr Purle, who warned that he would persist with the matter until he got the switch, asked for a named vote so that "the public can see which members are ignoring their wishes."

Those who voted against the motion for full council elections were Lib Dem Cllrs Brian Clark, Martin Cox, Dan Daley, Clive English, Nikki Fissenden, Susan Grigg , Tony Harwood, Michelle Hastie, Denise Joy, Dinesh Khadka, Ashleigh Kimmance, Derek Mortimer, Dave Naghi, Cynthia Robertson, Richard Webb and Paul Wilby.

Plus Labour Cllrs Patrick Coates, Paul Harper, Malcolm Mackay, and Independent Cllrs Tom and Janetta Sams.

Cllr Stanley Forecast (51989277)
Cllr Stanley Forecast (51989277)

A despairing Cllr Stanley Forecast (Con) said after the meeting: "It is completely disingenuous, party political, and self-serving to allow the taxpayers of Maidstone to continue to fund our costly election model.

"We’ve had the chance to save £80k a year and better fund the people’s priorities such as healthcare and safety. The opposition clearly prefers differ and delay.”

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