Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 16:35 UK

'Prize draw' to encourage voting

Hazel Blears
Ms Blears said many people wanted to get more involved

Voters in English local elections could be entered into a "prize draw" in an effort to increase turnout, says communities secretary Hazel Blears.

She told MPs proposals to give people more of a say in local services, such as letting councils offer "incentives" to encourage voter registration.

For the Conservatives, Eric Pickles suggested the "booby prize" would be a Labour councillor.

Ms Blears was briefing MPs on plans to give voters more say in local services.

Outlining the ideas in the government's White Paper "Communities in Control" in the Commons, Ms Blears told MPs it had two aims - "rehabilitating local political activity" and giving more power to local people.

Elected mayors

She rejected the idea that people were apathetic, saying surveys suggest almost 70% of people wanted a bigger say in local issues, but she said the "structures and culture" of politics "sometimes alienates them".

She said people would increasingly expect and demand more power and governments had to adapt and change their system.

Not everyone wants to become an active citizen, but there are millions of people in Britain who want to do more for their communities
Hazel Blears

The White Paper contains measures to make it easier for English towns to get directly elected mayors.

Thirteen towns currently have directly elected mayors - including Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough, London's Boris Johnson and three others in London boroughs. Nearly twice as many towns have voted to reject them.

Currently cities or boroughs must get signatures of 5% of the population to trigger a referendum and signatures only remain valid for 12 months.

'More popular'

Ms Blears said in future names could also be collected online.

Other proposals included putting a duty on councils to run voter registration campaigns, working with schools to explain councillors' roles and to allowing local authorities to offer voter incentives - such as a prize draw.

Ms Blears suggested such a move might make it "more popular for people to vote".

She said the government would also review the "Widdecombe rules" which restrict council officers from political activity.

This is a return to the sweetheart days when officers and councillors swapped roles on a tit-for-tat basis
Shadow communities secretary

And organisers of local petitions, sometimes ignored by councils, will be given the opportunity of a full council debate on the issue if signatures amount to 5% of the local population.

The White Paper also proposes transferring control of some council assets, such as swimming pools, to neighbourhood groups.

And councillors who have served two full terms would be recognised by the title "alderman" or "alderwoman".

'Too timid'

Ms Blears acknowledged: "Not everyone wants to become an active citizen, but there are millions of people in Britain who want to do more for their communities but they lack the platform on which to stand."

Her Tory shadow, Eric Pickles, described the proposals as "essentially harmless" and his party agreed that the hurdles for towns to get directly elected mayors were too high, although "local choice must be paramount".

But he said the government's proposals were "too timid" and mayors should be given "real control" over policing.

If ministers really believed in devolution, they would put their money where their mouth is
Julia Goldsworthy
Lib Dems

And a proposal that people who do not get their bin collected on time should be refunded 10 was dismissed, as Mr Pickles said council "bin bullies" were fining people 75 for putting out rubbish on the wrong day, or not shutting the bin lid correctly.

He also opposed changes to rules keeping council officers out of politics, adding: "This is a return to the sweetheart days when officers and councillors swapped roles on a tit-for-tat basis.

"Such jobs for the boys brought so much corruption to local government."

For the Liberal Democrats, Julia Goldsworthy said many councils were already implementing the measures proposed and the government was "merely playing a poor game of catch up".

"Councils should be given control over their own finances so that they are no longer dependent on Whitehall handouts," she said.

"If ministers really believed in devolution, they would put their money where their mouth is."


SEE ALSO
Bury elected mayor plan rejected
04 Jul 08 |  Manchester
Opening the 'people's purse'
05 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Voters given local budget powers
05 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Councils to challenge Kelly plans
19 Jun 07 |  UK Politics
Councils to get fresh law powers
26 Oct 06 |  UK Politics

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