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One-party councils could be ‘gift for lobbyists’ warn experts

England is likely to see swathes of ‘one party councils’ emerge next week, election experts have warned. 

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has warned of the risks of one-party domination under First Past the Post – a voting system that see’s millions of votes systematically ignored across the country.

Accrding to the ERS, under the current voting system one party can get near 100% representation with less than half of the votes cast.

The ERS says that when councils handle billions in contracts and public services, this poses major risks of dodgy contracts and lobbying going unscrutinised by other parties.

Research for the ERS in 2015 found that councils dominated by single parties could be wasting as much as £2.6bn a year through a lack of scrutiny of their procurement processes.

The study looked at thousands of public sector contracts and found that one-party dominated councils are around 50% more at risk of corruption than politically competitive councils, paying far over the odds to contractors.

Scotland and Northern Ireland already use a fair, proportional system for electing councillors – making local one-party states a thing of the past. In Wales, local authorities are now able to scrap First Past the Post and switch to the Single Transferable Vote – the same system used in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

‘Local one-party fiefdoms plague local government in England – with powers often wielded with little oversight. It is a potential gift for lobbyists and contractors,’ said senior director, Willie Sullivan.

‘We often see the absurdity of “scrutiny committees” – reviewing millions of pounds in contracts – being dominated by members of the same party that signed them.

‘The risks of winner-takes-all politics – of sloppy decision-making and dodgy dealings – are clear. One party councils could be wasting billions of pounds a year through a lack of proper oversight,’ added Mr Sullivan.

‘The distorted voting system is actively raising the risks of corruption in England. In Scotland, using a fair, proportional voting system has made one-party states a thing of the past.

‘Voters across the UK deserve fair representation, not unjust domination by one party. People want real choice and a clear voice. But too often in England they’re unable to break through the one-party ceiling.

‘A shift to proportional representation in England is vital to provide the effective scrutiny that voters need and deserve, and to open up the town hall cliques at last.

‘Instead, the home secretary is planning to make things worse by imposing First Past the Post on Mayors and PCC elections, a move that will hinder independents and deprive voters of real choice.’

Photo Credit – Jamie Hailstone

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