Elvery may have to go back to school to make things count

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Responding to the suggestion from Gavin Barwell that the council’s chief executive is considering staging three separate poll counts for next year’s General Election, ROD DAVIES provides this insight

Few people have actually managed any part of an election. I have…

polling stationIn the first instance, there are very few potential venues in Croydon capable of handling the three counts. Really, it comes down to a very large school premises, or Fairfield Halls. Both Trinity and Fairfield are expensive. Trinity has the edge with all the counts being on one level, good vehicle access and generous parking. The logistics involved in building the count venue in Fairfield Halls is difficult due to it being spread over several floors and separated areas.

The question of cost is a significant one. As Trinity School is part of a very wealthy charitable foundation that arguably exerts tremendous influence in the town for its own benefit, one might ask “shouldn’t Trinity allow the use of the space for a very low cost or free?”

As budgets have been cut over the years, the number of people available to work on an election have diminished. For the 2010 General Election there was a logistics team of six. In the last local election I understand that this was reduced to two. This manages the Polling Stations and the deployment of equipment to them, followed by the recovery of the equipment immediately after the election. In between, the same team has to design and deploy the count build. All of this is behind-the-scenes work that no one notices unless something goes drastically wrong.

If Croydon Council wants to move away from paying Trinity School or Fairfield to a cheaper option, it faces an enormous challenge to find suitable places and then develop plans to managed the dispersed resources.

There will be those who suggest using empty commercial property for the count, such as Segas and Ellis Houses, but these require considerable investment to make them suitable and capable of handling so many people. They may also not lend themselves to the movement of large quantities of furniture, equipment and ultimately ballot boxes and accompanying paperwork. And when it’s all over everything has to be removed very quickly and the building closed down.

At the heart of any public discussion of the operation of elections is most people’s total lack of knowledge of how elections are organised. We all take it for granted that on Polling Day the Polling Station is open, the signage is in place, the booths and other furniture are set up, the staff are in place and the ballot box ready to receive our ballot. We take it for granted that the count venue is ready and at the end of the count the declaration will be made.

For those who are interested here is a link to a list of polling stations, each of which must be supported.


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This entry was posted in 2015 General Election, Croydon Central, Croydon Council, Croydon North, Croydon South, Gavin Barwell, Nathan Elvery and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Elvery may have to go back to school to make things count

  1. Thanks for your expert views on this, Rod. New readers may not remember how your comments helped to inform the discussion earlier this year when the poorly organised local and European election counts were discussed.
    The reports then included this: http://insidecroydon.com/2014/05/27/council-publishes-unofficial-election-results-with-errors/

    In May, there were just 110 tellers, about two-thirds of the number of people to conduct the 24 ward counts and European count that might have been expected.

    Instead of declaring all the results by 3am, results were not announced in the local vote until 6am.

    Given the difficulties in organising a count in a single venue, it seems odd that the Returning Officer, Elvery, who is paid about £20,000 on top of his council salary to ensure the smooth and fair operation of elections in Croydon, to be openly considering dividing his “resources” across three different count venues.

    Do you believe this to be a viable option, Rod?

  2. Mary Wolf says:

    Friends and I think we can remember a General Election count where North and Central constituencies were counted in Fairfield – both of them in the Arnhem Gallery with South was counted in the Town Hall somewhere (Braithwaite?)

    I don’t know the Trinity site but I believe that, while it is all on one level, the distances between crucial places may be considerable. Fairfield and the Clocktower/Town Hall combo seem to me to offer a reasonably compact alternative and have lifts/slopes to relevant areas.

    I don’t envy the responsible officers the job of budgeting for this operation.

    • Rod Davies says:

      Hi Mary
      What makes Trinity so attractive is that trucks can be brought up close to the gymnasiums that are used for the count and furniture etc unloaded through generally wide doors. The large car park allows presiding officers to easily bring the ballot boxes and paperwork in by car. But even at Trinity processing each can be time consuming and a traffic jam can build up.

      The former use of Fairfield is positively dangerous, and one year I nearly ran over former CEO David Wechsler as I turned into the car park, having shot out of the underpass and cut across the two lanes.

      As for the distance of Trinity from some polling stations, it’s minimal in comparison with Fairfield. No doubt there will be someone who complains about the extra distance, but you can’t keep everyone happy.

  3. In the 1970s all of the counts were held in the Town Hall and Fairfield Halls, with no apparent problems. In the 1979 General Election, when I was Labour candidate in Croydon Central, the count for Central took place in the Council Chamber, if memory serves me right.

  4. davidcallam says:

    Mary and David are right in their recollections. Faifield and the Town Hall are a good combination. I can remember using both venues in the teeth of an IRA-inspired attempt to disrupt the count using bomb hoax phone calls. And still we managed to finish earlier than Mr Elvery did in May this year.

    If Fairfield is asking fancy prices I suggest someone has a quiet word and reminds them who pays the really big bills.

  5. Rod Davies says:

    Both Fairfield and Trinity cost and I don’t believe there’s much difference. If Fairfield has to close for an election, it has to recover the lost ticket sales somehow.

    The ideal is to have a single manageable area where movements can be controlled. It all tends to look fairly calm and controlled on TV on a Thursday count, but behind the scenes there’s a lot of activity before and after. The tables chairs etc don’t suddenly appear by magic.

    The alternative may be to do what some other boroughs do and that is to clear the desks in the council offices and use them. I am aware that LB Southwark, admittedly much smaller, used their offices for the local election count.
    It does require that council officers clear their desks and where possible avoid using the council offices during the Thursday and Friday.

    If the Rouse House (Bernard Wetherill) were used there could be a cost saving if managed well. However, I imagine that it would be an unpopular option with council officers. If the counts were done in Rouse House, then the declarations could be done in the Town Hall, which I think would be nice and probably popular with Croydon residents. However the bulk of election costs I believe are related to the very large number of people employed. Croydon has a lot of polling stations and each needs at least three staff. Then there’s the hundreds of count staff.

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