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City Hall votes in favour of Camden running EU referendum in ‘laughing stock’ Barnet

PUBLISHED: 16:58 13 May 2016 | UPDATED: 17:13 13 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

In an unprecedented move, the London Assembly has backed a suggestion that Camden Council should run the EU referendum in Barnet following last week’s polling day fiasco.

Re-elected Camden and Barnet member Andrew Dismore proposed a motion calling for the Electoral Commission to supervise the EU vote, and for Camden Council to take charge of running it.

The Bridlington-born politician told City Hall that Barnet could not be trusted “to run a whelk stall”.

The Assembly Members, meeting for the first time since last week’s elections, carried the motion by 15 votes to 10, with newly elected Green Party member and Camden councillor, Sian Berry, one of those in favour.

The Assembly unanimously carried a separate motion to set up its own working group to examine what wrong on polling day, when incomplete voting registers were sent to all 155 of Barnet’s polling stations.

Many voters were turned away across the borough between 7-10.40am, and disenfranchised voters took to Twitter to vent their anger.

The Conservatives on the Assembly did not support Mr Dismore’s motion calling for Labour-run Camden to take over the referendum in Tory-run Barnet, as their group leader, Gareth Bacon, said some of Mr Dismore’s claims were based on “opinions rather than facts.”

Mr Dismore told the Assembly he was aware of problems with every election run in Barnet since 2005, including when he lost his Hendon Parliamentary seat by just 106 votes.

He said that last week’s fiasco was “waiting to happen”, and that Barnet had become a national “laughing stock” with its incompetence.

Ahead of last week’s elections, the supplementary register of new voters was apparently supplied to polling stations instead of the full register.

Mr Dismore said: “By the time the error was spotted and remedial action taken, a significant number of voters were disenfranchised, though many were able to return to vote later.

“Many postal votes did not arrive on time, or were not received at all. Many poll cards were not received in time or at all. The election hot line was unavailable for most of the day.”

Mr Dismore said the state of the electoral role in Barnet was “worryingly deficient”.

The number of registered voters in Barnet has fallen by more than 8,000 in the past year - despite the borough’s rising population - and Mr Dismore claimed this is down to shoddy administrative practices.

He said that new blocks of flats and streets have been left off the register altogether or put on the wrong wards, and that people rehoused by the council under regeneration schemes were not reregistered - even after this was brought to the attention of the council.

Mr Dismore said he is aware of people who have moved out of the borough and let the council know still receiving polling cards.

He believes that the consequences of individual electoral registration (IER) were not fully appreciated in the borough - unlike in Camden, where voter registration has increased since these changes were introduced last year.

Mr Dismore told City Hall: “As a consequence of the significant issues raised, this Assembly has no confidence that Barnet could run a whelk stall, let alone be able to sort out the register and rectify these errors and inefficiencies by the time of the EU Referendum.”

Following the election day blunder last week, the council’s chief executive Andrew Travers - who also acted as the returning officer - left his £187,000 a year post at the council “by mutual agreement”.

The Ham&High has asked Barnet Council whether Mr Travers received a pay-off and is awaiting a response.

Mr Dismore weclomed the resignation of Mr Travers but has called for the resignation of Barnet Council leader Richard Cornelius as he said there should be political accountability.

Barnet was famously dubbed the “Easy Council” or “EasyJet Council” because of its enthusiasm for outsourcing vast swathes of its services to private providers.

The council denied that privatisation was the issue with last week’s blunder because compiling the voter register is still done in-house, although postal voting is outsourced to Capita.

The Electoral Commission has been asked by the Ham&High to respond to the demand for Camden to run the EU referendum in Barnet.

Barnet Council has announced that their investigation into what went wrong on polling day will be led by Mark Heath, the chief operating officer at Southampton City Council.

The inquiry will report back to the General Functions Committee on June 9, two weeks ahead of the EU referendum on June 23.

The Electoral Commission issued the following statement this afternoon: “What happened to voters who were unable to vote at the polling stations was unacceptable. We welcome Barnet’s decision to conduct a full, independent investigation into what happened.

“The Commission will contribute to the investigation and once published will work with Barnet closely to make sure that the EU Referendum and subsequent polls are run to a high standard.”

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