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Call for Camden to take over Barnet’s election department following polling day blunder

PUBLISHED: 19:28 09 May 2016 | UPDATED: 15:49 10 May 2016

Winner: Andrew Dismore is named as the AM for Barnet and Camden.

Winner: Andrew Dismore is named as the AM for Barnet and Camden.

Archant

The re-elected Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, Andrew Dismore, has called for Camden to run the EU referendum in Barnet, claiming Barnet cannot be trusted following Thursday’s fiasco at the polls.

Barnet hit the headlines last week after hundreds of residents were left unable to cast their vote at the mayoral and London Assembly elections due to an administrative blunder.

The council’s chief executive, Andrew Travers, today resigned his position and the local authority said it will launch an independent inquiry - but Mr Dismore does not believe the council can get its act together in time for the crucial referendum on June 23.

Mr Dismore has written to the Electoral Commission, requesting that they ask the Barnet Returning Officer for a full report on what happened.

Mr Dismore said: “Barnet has proved itself time and again incapable of running an election properly. It sees elections as a low grade administrative inconvenience rather than the essence of our democracy.

“Last week’s series of mega cock-ups are set out in detail in my letter to the Electoral Commission.

“They are clearly the inevitable result of the Conservatives’ agenda of cuts, mass privatisations , and complete inability to exercise the scrutiny required to ensure an efficient election.”

Mr Dismore added it was “fortunate” that both the mayoral victory for Sadiq Khan and his own majority over Tory rival Dan Thomas were sufficiently large that there have been no calls to re-run the election in Barnet.

But he said Barnet has made blunders in the past which have affected the outcome - such as in the General Election of 2010, when Mr Dismore lost the seat of Hendon to Conservative Matthew Offord by just 106 votes.

He said he has received “dozens” of emails from irate voter who were denied the right to vote on Thursday morning.

He said: “The Electoral Commission must get to grips with Barnet and sort them out.

“The Council must appoint an independent QC to conduct an urgent, full and open public inquiry to enable all those who lost their vote to have their say, either in person or in writing.”

And he added: “I am very concerned about getting this sorted out by the time of next month’s crucial EU Referendum.

“I doubt that Barnet will be able to put its house in order by then, so it seems to me the best solution is to ask Camden Council, who ran an impeccable election day, to take over Barnet’s election administration at least for the Referendum, so we can be sure of the security of that vote, at least.”

Mr Dismore welcomed the news that Mr Travers is leaving his post, but said he thought the leader of the council, Richard Cornelius, should also accept his share of responsibility.

Mr Travers, who as Chief Executive also acts as the returning officer, appears to have taken the fall for the blunder which saw incomplete polling lists sent out to every one of the borough’s 155 polling stations.

Resigning today, he said: “I have enjoyed my time at Barnet and I believe the changes we have put in place and the continued programme of growth and transformation will enable the borough to thrive.”

The council said that Mr Travers, who has been in the post for three and a half years, is leaving by “mutual agreement”.

In spite of last week’s embarrassing blunder, Barnet leader Richard Cornelius paid tribute to Mr Travers, saying: “Andrew has overseen Barnet Council during a significant period of challenge and opportunity, delivering changes to services to ensure we get the best value for the tax payer and securing the council’s financial position.

“He leaves with my thanks and best wishes.”

John Hooton, the current deputy chief executive, will take over the chief executive role on a temporary basis.

Barnet was famously dubbed the “EasyJet” council after outsourcing vast swathes of its services, but said that privatisation was not the issue with compiling Thursday’s polling lists as this is still done in-house.

Finchley and Golders Green’s Conservative MP Mike Freer said: “I await the independent report as to what happened on Polling Day, but it is right that the Chief Executive, who bears ultimate responsibility for operational matters at the Council, has resigned.”

The council has not said which body will oversee the inquiry into what went wrong.

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