Local elections in St Helens set to switch to four-yearly cycle

An all-out election will be called in St Helens in 2022 as part of a review of the boroughs electoral boundaries
An all-out election will be called in St Helens in 2022 as part of a review of the boroughs electoral boundaries

All-out elections could be a permanent fixture in St Helens after Labour councillors voted in favour of the switch.

Currently, St Helens Council sees a third of its councillors elected every year over a four-year cycle, with no elections in the fourth year.

In an all-out election the entire council is up for election every four years.

An all-out election will be called in St Helens in 2022 as part of a review of the borough’s electoral boundaries.

On Monday evening, councillors voted in favour of sticking with all-out elections beyond 2022 at a meeting of the St Helens Labour group.

Following the vote, council leader David Baines said: “I’m delighted to confirm that Labour will be supporting the introduction of all-out local elections on a four-yearly cycle in St Helens.

“This move would save the council money, and it would provide stability and clarity for the council and the public for long periods.

“It’s the right thing for the council and it’s the right thing for St Helens.”

The debate around all-out elections has been one that has divided the Labour camp for some time, particularly between councillors in the North and the South of the borough.

Labour councillors were supposed to decide whether or not they supported switching to the new system in December but ended up deferring the decision.

The vote took place at its January meeting, with a decision called in favour of the switch by a single vote.

However, according to Labour sources a complaint was lodged with Labour North West, the regional arm of the party, claiming the vote had been counted wrong.

The vote was subsequently rerun on Monday, with the outcome remaining the same but this time by a wider margin of 16 votes to 12.

With no whip in place, the Labour group were still very much split on the issue, with several cabinet members voting against the switch.

Council leader Baines had argued in favour of the elections for a number of reasons.

According to Labour sources, Coun Baines believes their opponents will struggle to field a candidate in every ward, giving Labour a tactical advantage.

But it is understood some councillors in the South had expressed concerns Labour could suffer heavy losses and possibly lose control of the council.

With Labour’s position on the matter now cemented, attention will turn to the council’s opposition groups.

In October, cabinet agreed to establish a cross-party electoral review working group to advise the council on its official response to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, which will carry out the review in 2020-21.

One of the implications of the review could see the number of councillors reduced in some wards from three to two based on population.

The last electoral boundary review in St Helens was completed in 2003 and saw the number of councillors reduced from 54 to 48.

The number of wards were also cut from 18 to 16.

It is understood that Rainford is one of the areas that could see a reduction in councillors following the latest review.

St Helens Conservatives leader Allan Jones said in December that the Tory group, all of whom are elected in Rainford, were “leaning” towards recommending the council sticks with election by thirds.

Following Labour’s decision to back all-out elections, Coun Jones said the group is looking at “all options” and would not be “rushing” a decision.

Rainhill councillor James Tasker, leader of The Independents, has already publicly backed the switch to all-out elections.

Coun Tasker said all-out elections will save the council money and give more power to the people.

Liberal Democrat leader Teresa Sims said it would be “premature” to comment while the work of the cross-party electoral review working group is ongoing.

Now the ruling Labour group has come to a position on the matter, the council will put the proposals out for public consultation at a date yet to be specified.

Proposals will later come before full council for a final decision on the matter.