Cabinet Office responses to some of the questions raised at Local Elections webinar

Standing for election and campaigning in a COVID-19 context, 12 March 2021 


1. As a Police and Crime Commissioner candidate, my campaigning has a regional scope. What are the rules related to me as a candidate in respect of carrying out non-local campaigning? As far as I can see the "stay local" order is expected to continue until 12th April at least. Can I legally campaign physically in areas away from my home at any point?

Whilst it is expected that campaigning is done locally, it is recognised that a candidate and their agent needs to be able to campaign anywhere within the electoral area in which they are standing, including a police force area for PCC candidates. At all times campaigning must be carried out in a COVID-secure manner.

2. Some areas of the country have had stubbornly high levels of infection and have been in the highest levels of restriction for nearly a year. Given that background, what support exists for candidates in vulnerable groups or who are isolating and don’t have the backing or finance of larger parties?

These guidelines apply to everyone equally. Voters can continue to get campaigning information remotely, for example through online campaign events and materials. Use of online and telephone campaigning remains the safest way to conduct campaigning for the polls on 6 May.

The UK Government’s guidance allows for two months of outdoor campaigning in the run up to May’s polls, to support free and fair elections. Changes have been made to legislation to enable a substantial range of COVID-secure campaigning by candidates/campaigns and their supporters.

This will ensure that campaigning can be undertaken during the regulated period and also for a period of time before the expenses requirements. It represents a proportionate approach which effectively balances the importance of effective elections with the need to protect public health.

3. Why has the number of requestors for Parish by-elections not been reduced in line with nomination assenters?

This relates to notice of a vacancy and not to someone standing nominated. To request a parish by-election does not need one person to organise a form to be completed and submitted. The applications can be sent individually and do not require someone to travel to collect signatures.

4. Today's advice states "The government's view is that current restrictions do not support door to door campaigning or leafleting by individual campaigners." Later it states that door to door and campaigner leafleting is permissible.  These two statements in the same document are incompatible. Please clarify.

Up to 8 March, the Government’s view was that restrictions did not support door to door campaigning or leafleting by individual campaigners, that voters could continue to get campaigning information remotely, for example through online campaign events and materials, and that leafleting should only be carried out through existing commercial delivery services. 

Since 8 March, in line with the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, the rules have allowed for individual campaigners to deliver leaflets and to engage with electors on their doorsteps - but they should always be socially distanced and not enter inside people’s homes.

5. Given the extra restrictions due to COVID and the now very short time to canvass (which favours existing councillors who have a known profile), why was this election not postponed until say August when most will have been vaccinated?    

Democracy should not be cancelled because of COVID-19. The Government has confirmed that the set of local polls scheduled for May will go ahead, and made a firm commitment that the Government will support the sector to deliver them.

On 5 February, the Government published a Delivery Plan, covering how the elections will proceed, from announcement to results.

Holding elections is fundamental to our democracy and voters have the right to be heard and to decide who governs them. 

This is especially true in the context of the pandemic, where voters will be choosing the people who will be making decisions on vital local services and helping to lead us to sustainable economic recovery as we emerge from the COVID crisis.

6. There appears to be no guidance available for change of governance referendums? Particularly important to community campaigners who may be wholly unfamiliar with frameworks/mechanisms etc....?    

MHCLG have not recently issued updated guidance on local governance referendums and petitions. Rules are the same for a petition to trigger a referendum involving a question on any change of governance, whether from an existing elected mayor to leader and cabinet, or to an elected mayor, etc – the nature of the referendum question must be on the petition. MHCLG may be contacted directly for further information.

7. Will Presiding Officers in polling stations have powers or guidance to deal with potential voters who ignore current COVID-19 advice?    

Minimising the transmission of COVID-19 and protecting public health is a priority during these elections and we have put in place a strong set of measures to ensure that the polls will be COVID-secure for voters and staff. 

All voters and staff should wear a face covering in polling stations (unless exempt) and follow public health guidelines in accordance with Government guidance. The Electoral Commission has published guidance to support the delivery of the polls, including for Presiding Officers on polling day.

8. Would I be able to petition to stall the council election until next year or is that something someone cannot change? 

The Government has confirmed that the local elections scheduled for May will go ahead, and made a firm commitment that the Government will support the sector to deliver them. The date of the polls is set in primary legislation and would require an Act of Parliament to change.

9. Whilst we have the rule of 1, how can COVID safe photos be taken? Is it ok to have a photographer present?    

Any activity should be undertaken only if permitted by the rules and following public health guidelines. The provisions allow for campaigning activity rather than photography.

10. What are the specific regs that allow for mass gatherings on 6th/7th/8th/9th May for the count?  I've seen the regs that have exceptions for gatherings to observe electoral processes - but is there a specific piece of legislation that allows mass gatherings for the count or is it classed as work?    

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 allows activity required for the counting of votes.

11. Can someone please explain the logic (following the science?) behind trying to communicate with the public with a Face Mask on whilst outside and 2 metres plus back from the door? Not everyone can wear one either. Vicars and teachers indoors can communicate without one; what is the real risk outdoors (agree- not in flats) - there is no legal requirement to wear a mask when out walking the streets?    

The regulations and guidance are based on advice from Public Health England and reflect the wider requirements for ensuring public health is protected.

All campaigners, unless exempt, should wear a face covering when meeting anybody they do not live with, whether electors or other campaigners, and should maintain effective social distancing when talking to people, staying 2 metres apart at all times
All campaigners should follow the guidance on how to stop the spread of coronavirus at all times. Minimising the transmission of COVID-19 and protecting public health is a priority during these elections and it is important that everyone involved plays their part in this.

12. What does the Cabinet Office say to those angry either at schools having to close having been closed for so long or indeed testing or vaccine centres closing to be used for polling stations or count venues?    

We are working with partners to help to ensure that any disruption to children’s education is kept to an absolute minimum whilst allowing Returning Officers to effectively run polls. 

Given the importance of avoiding any further disruption to education, schools should not be used where alternative venues are available. 

We particularly discourage the use of schools where it would result in closure, and will provide support to Returning Officers to explore the use of other community or commercial facilities, and to minimise disruption to schools where they are the only available option. 

Some usual venues will not be suitable for use as polling stations for the very reason that they are being used for other priority activities, such as for vaccinations. 

We are providing support to Returning Officers to explore the use of other community or commercial facilities, and one of the purposes of providing additional funding is to support Returning Officers to access alternative appropriate venues.

It will not be possible in all cases to find alternatives, and legal provisions allow for the use of schools as polling stations. We are therefore also asking that Returning Officers work together with Headteachers to explore all possibilities that would allow the school to remain open, using only part of the premises as a polling station and taking adequate COVID-secure and safeguarding measures to allow pupils to remain on-site.

13. Voters can have an emergency vote if they have to self-isolate. But what if a candidate (perhaps an independent or from a small group) has to self-isolate during the election and is prevented from physical campaigning - what will be done to ensure the process is fair?    

These guidelines apply to everyone equally. Voters can continue to get campaigning information out through remote methods, for example through online campaign events and materials. Use of online and telephone campaigning remains the safest way to conduct campaigning for the polls on 6 May.

14. Petitions to trigger a change of governance referenda are not mentioned in the recent revised guidance, only campaigns for the referenda themselves. Will the guidance for petitions differ from this?    

MHCLG have not recently issued updated guidance on local governance referendums and petitions. Rules are the same for a petition to trigger a referendum involving a question on any change of governance, whether from an existing elected mayor to leader and cabinet, or to an elected mayor, etc – the nature of the referendum question must be on the petition. MHCLG may be contacted directly for further information.

15. Can anyone explain why the election hasn't been moved to early Autumn given the step of opening up being stated as June 21st.
An election in late August would not require schools to be closed, weather likely to be good and two months past Step 4 of COVID opening up?  Does anyone understand why given the health risks that government is staying with May 6th?   

Holding elections is fundamental to our democracy and voters have the right to be heard and to decide who governs them. 

This is especially true in the context of the pandemic, where voters will be choosing the people who will be making decisions on vital local services and helping to lead us to sustainable economic recovery as we emerge from the COVID crisis.

16. Re: fair competition.  Party in govt have already been leafleting for about 3 weeks.  Small parties and independents cannot start this until end of March. Party in govt have access to electors data, rest of parties and Independents don't. Is this an example of giving advantage to parties already in power?  

Since 8 March, in line with the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, the rules have allowed for individual campaigners to deliver leaflets and to engage with electors on their doorsteps - but they should always be socially distanced and not enter inside people’s homes. All registered political parties, excluding ‘minor parties’, who contest parish elections only, are required to follow the same rules around the use of the electoral register for campaigning purposes.

Candidates are entitled to be supplied with copies of the relevant part of the electoral register by the electoral registration officer once they officially become a candidate.

17. My local Returning Officer says that to comply with COVID regs, the local authority cannot make market stalls available to candidates until 12 April. Do you agree with this interpretation of the COVID regs?    

This is a matter for the local authority and, if relevant, the Returning Officer.

18. Is door to door canvassing/door knocking a’ no no’ in these COVID times?  

Since 8 March, in line with the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, the rules have allowed for individual campaigners to deliver leaflets and to engage with electors on their doorsteps - but they should always be socially distanced and not enter inside people’s homes. 

19. What changes have the Cabinet Office made to ensure Independents are better included and consulted in future guidance? There are over 2000 Independent councillors and using the parliamentary parties panel (which Independents and Greens are not represented on) and parliamentary party contacts, is not gathering a full representation of views.    

The Government is committed to ensuring that all relevant views are taken into account. In developing recent guidance to support campaigning ahead of the May elections, the Government consulted a number of groups, including the Parliamentary Parties Panel, the Green Party and others, as well as the Local Government Association so that views from independent candidates could be taken. We are committed to ensuring we take into consideration the views of independent candidates as effectively as possible.