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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 00:01 GMT 01:01 UK
Q&A: The local elections

BBC News Online presents its at-a-glance guide to England's local elections on 2 May.

When are the 2002 local elections?

You can vote at polling stations between 0800 and 2100 on Thursday, 2 May. Most results should be known within a few hours of the polls closing.

What do local councils control?

Although much has been written about power being stripped from local councils, they still control a surprisingly large range of services.

How many people are standing?
Conservative - 5,470
Labour - 5,329
Liberal Democrat - 4,368
Green - 1,046
Others (including independents) - 1,575
Total - 17,788
Councils have considerable control over roads, leisure centres, libraries and schools as well as services such as rubbish collection, pest control and street lighting.

Local councils also control planning regulations, which cover everything from the siting of mobile phone masts and waste incinerators to granting permission for home improvements.

Local councils are shortly to be handed control over licensed premises, when new 24 hour drinking laws are introduced.

Through environmental health and trading standards departments local councils also remain the first - and often the only - port of call for consumer complaints in the UK.

How much does it cost to stand as a councillor?

It does not cost anything for an individual to stand as a local councillor.

Unlike general elections, there is no deposit system to prevent frivolous candidates.

However, the cost of printing leaflets and campaigning might deter some candidates.

Where are elections being held?

In total, 5,889 councillors will be elected across England on 2 May, with elections being held in 174 local authorities.

Who is up for election?
All 32 London boroughs
A third of councillors in 36 Metropolitan boroughs
Entire council in six unitary authorities
A third of councillors in 12 unitary authorities
All councillors in 46 district councils
Third of councillors in 42 district councils

Some areas will elect all of their councillors for a four year term, while others will elect a third of their councillors, with another third to be elected in 2003 and again in 2004.

But not all councils will be taking part on 2 May.

Local elections are held every year in the UK, but not every council has elections every year.

In 2001, English county councils were elected, along with some unitary authorities and all authorities in Northern Ireland.

Have there been any boundary changes since the last local elections?

In areas where all councillors are to be elected there have been extensive boundary changes.

Many wards have been renamed and the total number of councillors sitting on each ward has changed.

Has the traditional polling system been scrapped for these elections?

The overwhelming majority of votes will still be cast at traditional polling booths in schools and church halls.

But a small number of councils have been allowed to experiment with different voting systems, in an effort to boost falling turnouts.

Twenty nine councils are taking part in pilot projects.

Some councils have opted for an all-postal ballot, including Gateshead, Havering, Hackney, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Stevenage, Trafford.

Other councils have chosen online voting through the local council's website or special e-voting booths.

Others have gone for a mix of e-voting and postal ballots, in selected wards.

People will be allowed to vote early in Camden, Newham and Swindon, which will also have internet and touch-tone telephone voting.

Polling stations will stay open longer in Wandsworth and Westminster.

What about mayoral elections?

Mayoral votes will take place in seven areas alongside the local election ballot on 2 May.

Directly elected mayors are meant to breathe new life into local democracy by installing high profile figures - such as London mayor Ken Livingstone - who are accountable for decisions affecting local people.

The mayor selects a cabinet of local councillors for different policy areas, such as planning or finance.

This is meant to replace the traditional structure of a council leader and committees, which was seen as sluggish and unresponsive.

The mayor is elected for a four year term and is not allowed to be an elected councillor as well.

Where are mayoral elections being held?

Elections are taking place in seven authorities where there was a vote in favour of an elected mayor in a referendum.

These are: Doncaster, Hartlepool, Lewisham, Middlesborough, Newham, North Tyneside and Watford.

An eighth area, Bedford, will elect a mayor later in the year.

May 2 will also see referendums on whether to have an elected in mayor in five further authorities - Hackney, Mansfield, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Oxford, Stoke-on-Trent.

There have also so far been 15 authorities where the electorate have voted against the proposal to have an elected mayor.

How does the mayoral voting system work?

If there are only two mayoral candidates, then the simple majority - or "first-past-the-post" - system applies.

However, if there are three or more candidates - as is the case for all the authorities electing a mayor on 2 May - each person gets two votes, in a system called Supplementary Vote.

The two votes are for a first and second preference candidate.

If one of the candidates receives more than half of all the first preference votes given, then he or she wins.

However, if none of the candidates receives more than half of all the first preference votes, then all but the two candidates who received the greatest number of first preferences are eliminated.

It is then that the number of second preference votes given for each of the top two candidates by voters whose first choice has been eliminated come into play.

These second preferences are added to the first preferences and the winner is the candidate with the higher total.

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