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Issue Date:- 23 July 2008

Official report on May local elections in England published

ON Friday, 18 July 2008, the Electoral Commission has published its report about the May 2008 local elections in England.

The report finds that the elections went smoothly and there were few problems.  Changes to elections rules first introduced last year were now well established and there were a relatively small number of elections compared to 2007.

However, the report makes a number of recommendations for changes that will help prevent any potential problems in future years when more elections are held and when turnout may be higher:-

· Changes to electoral rules introduced in 2007 are now well established, meaning that organising the elections was a less challenging process for Returning Officers.  The Commission continues to recommend that any future changes to electoral law should not be made within the six months before any election.

· In light of increasing pressures during the time available for printing and processing postal votes, the report also calls for the UK Parliamentary election timetable to be increased to 25 days, in line with other UK elections.

· The Commission was pleased that almost all Returning Officers (ROs) checked personal identifiers (voters’ date of birth and signature) on 100 percent of returned postal votes.  Electoral law only requires ROs to check 20 percent of postal votes, and the Commission continues to call on Government to make 100 percent checking mandatory.

The report also found that public confidence in the security of postal voting has further increased this year.  In our public opinion survey, 51 per cent of all respondents said that they thought postal voting was safe from fraud or abuse, an increase of 10 percentage points from last year.  But Tthe Commission continues to call to improved security through the introduction of individual voter registration.

Karen Quaintmere, Head of Electoral Administration at the Electoral Commission said:- “Although the elections went smoothly in England this year, this does not mean that future UK-wide elections can be predicted to go as well.  Our report makes a number of recommendations that will allow us to build on this success for future elections and to ensure that procedures are revised to avoid any problems. 

The elections in May showed the benefits of establishing electoral law well in advance of polling day to ensure elections are planned for and run effectively, something the Commission has been calling for.”

In autumn of 2009, the Commission will be setting performance standards for Returning Officers to support improvements in the quality of election management and ensure electors’ interests are put at the centre of the democratic process.

Click here to see a PDF file about the report...

New Roscoe School blooms!

HUNDREDS of pupils at two of Liverpool’s most historic schools are to hold a massive playground party to celebrate their amalgamation.  Roscoe Junior and Roscoe Infants Schools in Tuebrook were the first to be built in the city after the first world war around 1920.  They were named after William Roscoe, an 18th century philanthropist who created Liverpool’s famous botanical collection.  Although they are located in the same building, they have always been run separately.  But from September they will merge to become Roscoe Primary School, with a single headteacher and administration.  To mark the historic change, the children held a party in the playground next Tuesday, 23 July 2008.  Organised by the PTA, it will involve all 300 pupils in music and dancing.  Also the youngsters made their own bunting for the special occasion.  Headteacher Amanda Anders said:- “This party is a great way of the school celebrating the end of one era and the start of another.  We are absolutely delighted that the schools are coming together as one.  It marks the beginning of a new chapter in the long and proud history of the schools.”   Councillor Keith Turner, executive member for education, said:- “Bringing both schools together will enable the leadership team to concentrate on furthering the excellent progress made recently in improving standards of teaching and learning.”  Memorable moments in the school’s history include bomb damage caused by the Luftwaffe in 1941 and a visit from Mastermind presenter Magnus Magnusson in 2000.  The new school will be officially opened on 17 September 2008 by Lord Alton, who founded the Roscoe Lectures.

No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility

INCAPACITY benefits and Income Support are to be abolished as part of far-reaching new proposals, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions James Purnell announced on 21 July 2008.

In a radical overhaul of the welfare state, Mr Purnell announced proposals to scrap incapacity benefits by 2013 and abolish Income Support to create a more streamlined system based on just two working-age benefits - the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), for those who have a medical condition which prevents them from working, and Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA) for everyone who is able to work.

Unveiling the new reforms in a green paper published today called No one written off...  reforming welfare to reward responsibility, Mr Purnell said:- "Our proposals are based on a simple deal: more support in return for greater responsibility.

This green paper proposes a simpler benefit system that rewards responsibility, gives people the incentive to do the right thing and ends the injustice of people being written off on benefits for life without any hope of getting the support they need to get back to work.

We will help people find work, but they will be expected to take a job."

Under the plans, people on incapacity benefits will be moved on to ESA by 2013.  This will provide temporary support for all but the most severely disabled people.  Everyone currently on Incapacity Benefit and new claimants will go through a new enhanced medical assessment and be assessed on what they can do, not on what they can't.  Doctors will be asked to make clear the point at which the individual should be fit for work and people will be assessed again at that point.

People with severe disabilities will get more cash under ESA.  The rest who qualify for the benefit will be placed in a "work" category.  They will receive personalised back-to-work support to help them prepare for work and overcome any barriers they face. 

It will be made clear to this group that ESA is a temporary situation to help them get fit to return to work.

The green paper also sets out proposals to move towards a streamlined benefit system, moving lone parents with children under seven on to JSA.  While lone parents with children under seven would not be required to actively seek work, the green paper proposes voluntary measures to give them more support to prepare them for work and includes a 'skills for work' premium on top of existing benefits to act as a weekly financial incentive.

The conditions attached to receiving JSA will also be strengthened with a "work for benefits" scheme for the long-term unemployed.  People unemployed for over two years and those abusing the system could be forced to take part in full-time activity such as community work at any point in their claim.  People will have to train to get their job skills and drug users would be required to seek treatment or could lose their benefits.

In return for these greater expectations for people on benefits to find work, Mr Purnell also announced measures offering greater support.  These include:-

► Doubling the funding of Access to Work which provides assistance to disabled workers and their employers, which already helps 24,000 people a year gain employment or stay in their job.  There will also be significant increases for the schemes which provide support into employment for the most severely disabled people.  People on incapacity benefits who find work through the Pathways to Work programme could get a £40 a week top-up on their wages to ease the transition into work

► A "full disregard" for child maintenance, so that payments will not be taken into account when calculating how much out-of-work benefits a parent should get.  The full disregard, combined with existing reforms to the child maintenance system, and measures to support lone parents with older children into work, will lift up to 200,000 children out of poverty.

► Exploring more ways we can give disabled adults greater control over the combined budget which the government spends on their support.

The publication of the green paper will be followed by three months of public consultation on its proposals.  Mr Purnell urged everyone - whether large private firms or individual benefit claimants - to make their views heard and play an active role in shaping the policies.

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