Alarming fall in number of candidates

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Declining interest in grass-roots democracy across East Anglia is beginning to creep up the political food chain with a growing number of uncontested seats for district council elections on May 3.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Declining interest in grass-roots democracy across East Anglia is beginning to creep up the political food chain with a growing number of uncontested seats for district council elections on May 3.

An EDP survey has found that an alarming shortage of candidates means only a fraction of the hundreds of parish councils in the region are able to hold a contested poll, with signs that district councils are also beginning to be affected.

Many district candidates are also serving county councillors - including both the Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council Daniel Cox and his Labour counterpart Irene Macdonald. And in some cases the so-called 'twin-trackers' are also parish councillors, a further sign of the lack of names coming forward.

In King's Lynn and West Norfolk 17 district wards will be uncontested, effectively meaning standing candidates have already been elected before a vote has been cast. In Breckland eight of the council's 28 district wards are shoo-ins and 17 in Fenland.

Colin Bland, chief executive of Broadland District Council where one seat is uncontested, said the vast majority of councillors were dedicated and hardworking but it was becoming increasingly difficult to find people willing to stand.

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“It's starting to reflect itself in the districts councils. If you look at the contests, they are predominantly the same people as four years ago.”

The lack of parish council-lors is felt across the region.

Nobody in North Norfolk has stepped forward to be a parish councillor in three villages, while just 24 of the district's 127 parish wards have got enough candidates to warrant an election.

Total apathy reigns at Baconsthorpe, Holkham and Horning where there is not a single candidate wanting to join the parish council.

In another four places - Great Snoring, Swafield, Warham and Wood Norton - there are not enough to enable to council to legally function.

In Broadland, of the 65 parishes in the district there will only be elections in eight, and a special meeting was held last week to co-opt two people to keep the council at Honingham afloat after only one candidate stood.

In South Norfolk 12 parish councils were being contested, while in Waveney no votes were only being in 18 parish council polls.

Alan Jones, spokesman for the National Association of Local Councils, said he hoped reforms proposed in the local government white paper to give more power to parishes could increase the numbers willing to stand.

“For many years in the past, parish and town councils have been sidelined in matters that effect the daily lives of their local communities,” he said.

“With the Local Government White Paper, Quality Status and the future Local Government Bill, parish and town councils will be given a more powerful role, remit and influence and therefore have the ability to fill that gap in between people and the levers of power.”

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