CROYDON COMMENTARY: Round after round of redundancies at the council, going back more than a decade, may have led to the shambles of the election count, according to former senior council official ROD DAVIES
Without a thorough and open review of what occurred during the conduct of Croydon’s 2022 election count, no one can state with any certainty whether the reasons for the initial delay in starting the count were due to ineptitude or to specific circumstances that delayed opening the ballot boxes and distributing the ballot papers. It may be that significant number of presiding officers arrived at Trinity with a lot of issues to be addressed.
As for the choice of Trinity School as a count venue, what other option is there in Croydon where everything is on one level with lots of space to unload the ballot boxes and PO packs; to lay out the counting tables in a single area that can be adequately supervised and then carry the various items to the required places?
The problem is that the election has to work around Trinity’s schedule and not the other way around.
While count staff are paid, they are not people who do it as a profession – they are employed for the day and that’s it. The training is limited by their availability to attend. Inherently, they will be a mixed bag, some good at counting accurately and some not.
I recall in 2010 there was one count supervisor who struggled to get the work done and was still counting as the count was being knocked down and loaded back on the trucks – but that final ward had to be counted and signed off.
Perhaps the most pertinent question should be: why do we bother to try to do the count overnight and declare in the early hours of the morning for local elections?
Wouldn’t it be better to wait until the following day and do it during the daytime when everyone is fresher? I recall being part of the elections logistics team in 2010 starting work around 5am Thursday and finishing at 5pm on Friday – 36 hours straight.
There are 149 polling stations in Croydon, and every year about 15per cent change or are unavailable. So alternatives have to be found. All the required equipment has to be readied and checked, sent out on the Tuesday, keys collected for distribution and then gathered back in, then all brought back on Friday morning.
Behind this there are 149 sets of numbered ballots to be boxed up and all the other material prepared. Orders have to go out to the printers. The materials have to be issued to the 149 presiding officers prior to election day, and someone has to manage that.
Approximately 450 polling station staff have to be trained and briefed on the specifics of the election.
If there are Portakabins being used as temporary stations, they need installing and linking up to power, and then removed during the early hours of Friday morning.
The count has to be built with tables and chairs being delivered and set out. Then it has to be knocked down at the end.
Porterage has to be recruited and briefed to handle the incoming ballot boxes and packs and their movement into the count area.
While all of the above is going on, there are members of the public calling in regarding the registration to vote, and have to be dealt with.
Back in Croydon’s halcyon days there were council staff who could be called upon to help out. Since 2008, repeated rounds of redundancy has depleted the workforce, especially those with operation skills, and those remaining are basically a skeleton crew.
I worked in the team that led election logistics in the 2000s and prior to my being made redundant, I repeatedly said to Jon Rouse, the Conservative-appointed chief exec, that he had to make provision for a handover to ensure that someone would takeover from my team. The strategic planning associated with the large numbers of redundancies presumably determined that that role was no longer required. He did nothing to prepare for any handover.
In late 2009, I was approached to come back and work on the preparations for the 2010 General Election as there was no competent in-house resource. The issues with managing elections in Croydon predate Katherine Kerswell. The council continues to rely on former employees to come back as contractors to carry out key functions.
Elections may appear simple routine events to the public, and that is because most of the time they are blissfully unaware of the work that is carried out behind the scenes to make them happen. The only time they become aware is when things don’t work out as smoothly as they expect.
We don’t know why it took so long to complete the count, and will not know until a review is carried out and the council provides a detailed explanation.
Read more: From bankrupt to laughing stock as council count continues
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Read more: The full ward-by-ward Croydon Council election results
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