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Fears for summer holiday police commissioner election, when polling stations will be closed and vital staff are away

Birmingham City Council is warning that the August by-election to choose a West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner could descend into chaos

West Midlands police and crime commissioner Bob Jones
The by-election follows the death of West Midlands police and crime commissioner Bob Jones

The election of a new Police Commissioner in the school holidays is in danger of becoming a costly farce - with more than a quarter of polling stations closed and officials responsible for overseeing the poll on their summer break, it has emerged.

Council managers, who are responsible for managing elections, fear they may not even have enough staff to count the votes.

The warning, issued by Birmingham City Council, was revealed by city MP Jack Dromey in the House of Commons.

A by-election will be held in Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell, and Wolverhampton on August 21.

It follows the death of Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones, who died on July 1 aged 59.

But the summer holiday by-election comes after two voters including UKIP activist Mike Rumble made a formal request for a poll, triggering a 35 working-day legal limit within which it must be held.

There are fears that the poll could attract even fewer voters than the original election in November 2012, when turnout was just 12 per cent.

An internal council report by Robert Connelly, the authority’s Head of Electoral Services, warns that 136 of the city’s 460 polling stations will be unavailable, either because they had already been booked before the vote was called or because they are schools undergoing essential maintenance in the run up to the new school year in September.

His report also warns that staff who usually open and look after polling stations, who include school caretakers, may not be available.

And it adds: “All election officers across the region have concerns about staffing not just on polling day but also for the count.”

The concerns were raised at a special Commons hearing to pass legislation for the by-election - after Ministers admitted they made mistakes in the original legislation.

Police Minister Mike Penning said: “I put my hands up”.

He revealed the estimated cost of the by-election was £3.7 million.

And Mr Penning slammed UKIP, telling MPs he wanted “to say how disappointed I think we all are that individuals decided they would push for the by-election in this particular situation before Mr Jones had even been buried, and I know that has caused a great deal of concern and upset to his family and I think that was absolutely appalling, and I hope the public in the West Midlands know exactly what has gone on.”

Mr Dromey, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington and Shadow Police Minister, said many voters would be on holiday when the poll took place and might fail to arrange postal votes in time.

He said: “This flawed legislation has allowed two individuals associated with UKIP to trigger a by-election within days of the death of Bob Jones, for the 21 of August, before Bob was buried and to the great distress of his widow.

“Because of the government’s flawed legislation, we will see costly chaos. Cost to the taxpayer and chaos in the administration of the by election.

“And potentially and very worryingly, thousands will lose their ability to vote.”

UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge said two UKIP members had asked for the by-election but it had not been a formal request from the party.

He said: “The Police and Crime Commissioner is an extremely important role which needs to be filled as soon as possible.

“I am angry and disappointed that Labour and the Conservatives have descended into mud slinging and playing politics.

“Bob and I disagreed about politics as much as it’s possible for two people to disagree. But he was always kind, always courteous and he would not have behaved like this.”

 

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