When this column goes to print on Thursday, it will be election day for much of the UK. For voters in Mendip, we are choosing a new Police & Crime Commissioner for Avon & Somerset, and many other areas will go about electing local councillors and mayors. Election campaigns, and the moment when you finally put a cross in a box highlight our democratic rights, to have our say and play our part in how we are governed.
I don’t think we should ever take our democracy and right to vote for granted. My grandmother was a suffragette. She joined a movement of people who fought for equal voting rights between men and women, something eventually granted in the UK in 1928 with the Equal Franchise Act. Elsewhere in the world, people are still unable to vote, or face grave risks by simply turning up at a polling station.
The turnout for local elections is often low when compared to the turnout for a general election. This year experts worry that it could be even lower due to concerns about covid, with a quarter of people saying they are less likely to vote.
As leader of Mendip District Council, however, I can reassure you that every effort has been made to ensure a secure and Covid-safe ballot can take place. Many will have already received ballot papers in the post, but for those venturing to the polling stations, the elections team at Mendip will ensure Covid-safe voting is open to all, between 7am and 10pm.
Looking ahead, I’m pleased to say that all Somerset residents will also get a say on how our county is governed going forward.
Regular readers will be aware of the guidance from government which asked councils to propose new ideas for council reorganisation, and the resulting plans put forward.
There are two proposals: one from Somerset County Council, ‘One Somerset,’ which proposes abolishing all four district councils and the county council to create one unitary authority stretching right across the county, and an alternative proposal from the four district councils, ‘Stronger Somerset,’ which suggests two new councils, divided geographically to the east and west.
A robust debate took place last week, and I was pleased that the district councils voted in favour of a local ballot – giving every local elector a chance to have their say. I’m a great believer in local decision-making, and this could rarely be more important. We shouldn’t risk a decision handed down from Westminster, imposed on us from above. As ever, we residents of Somerset aren’t backward in coming forward and so it’s only right that we each have our say and indicate a preference among the choices available.
You can find information on both proposals online (onesomerset.org.uk / strongersomerset.co.uk). The poll will take place via a postal ballot (with an online option) and you will be receiving information on how to vote soon.
As always, do get in touch either on my email [email protected], or my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke.
Written by Cllr Ros Wyke, Leader of Mendip District Council
Please get in touch either on my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke or you can send me an email: [email protected].