AUTHOR: PETER KEELING, VOTING INFORMATION MANAGER AT THE DEMOCRACY CLUB
Democracy Club is a Community Interest Company which builds online voter information tools for UK elections. We run the UK’s national polling station finder at WhereDoIVote.co.uk (in conjunction with The Electoral Commission), and a database of UK elections and candidates at WhoCanIVoteFor.co.uk. We’re a small team, supported by hundreds of volunteers. We work openly, and all our data is free to access.
The 2021 Elections
The local elections on 6 May will be one of the most complex electoral events in British history. England alone will see elections for the London Assembly, thirteen mayors, thirty-nine Police and Crime Commissioners, and 143 principal councils (plus the Isles of Scilly). In total, Democracy Club has counted 4,648 principal council seats up for election, not including by-elections.
Yet, Democracy Club is conscious that these elections are not the whole picture. The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has identified around 2,000 local (parish and town) councils which are also due elections, totalling perhaps 20,000 councillors. None of these elections will be accommodated in the Democracy Club database. If Democracy Club’s aim is to provide voters with information reflecting their own individual experience at the polling station, then we are clearly failing to provide millions of voters with this layer of detail.
That Democracy Club has never attempted to cover local council elections before is due to three problems: scale, geography, and the fact that so many go uncontested. We struggle enough to manage the 310 English principal councils, with their regular boundary reviews and mergers. Trying to replicate this for parish and town councils would require a significant expansion of our resources and capacity. Furthermore, according to NALC’s 2019 election report, 71% of the town and parish councillors were elected in an uncontested election or co-opted onto the council.
Bearing these issues in mind, it is nevertheless clear that local councils deserve our attention. Not only can they have enormous relevance for the lives of their communities, but the larger councils control substantial budgets and hold regularly contested elections. Furthermore, it is clear that the number of uncontested elections both fuels and is fuelled by, a basic lack of public awareness. To quote the NALC election report:
“The lack of contested elections is hampering the sector, as it undermines the democratic process and mandate of local councils. If councils are to be trusted with public funds, they must be held to account within the election process.”
Doing something about it
With this in mind, this year we’re conducting a little experiment by adding select parish and town councils to WhoCanIVoteFor.co.uk.
As we’re not importing any new electoral geographies, the parishes we display must match exactly the same geography as a principal council ward up for election on 6 May 2021. For example, Chippenham Town Council’s Hardenhuish ward is exactly the same shape as Wiltshire council’s ward of the same name. In this case, every postcode search that falls within the former will also see information about the town council. This method will, unfortunately, mean that some town councils will lack cards for all of their wards, due to a lack of matching principal council wards, but it’s a start!
Our local council cards will provide users with the following information:
- Name of the council and link to its website
- Number of councillors on the ward (or council, if the council has no wards)
- A short explanation of local councils, with a link to a useful LocalGov article
- The amount of money raised by the council precept, taken from the MHCLG database
- Additionally, after nominations close, we will also link to the PDF Statement of Persons Nominated. This latter link will display regardless of whether the election was contested or not.
We’re hoping that by trying this limited experiment, we will learn some lessons which we can apply to a more robust solution for future elections.
If you’re reading this and have some suggestions about how we should approach this problem, or know of a town or parish council which would be a good candidate to add to our website, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing .