It’s an old adage that if you don’t vote you can’t complain. When polls open across England, Scotland and Wales on May 6, millions of us will cast our ballots for councillors, police and crime commissioners, parliamentarians, assembly members and directly elected mayors.
These are people who have the power to get stuff done in our local areas and make changes to the things directly affecting our lives. But with different elections going on in different parts of the country, it can feel like a minefield just trying to keep up.
Fear not, The Big Issue has all the answers. From which elections are being held in 2021 to how you can find out who’s standing near you, here’s what you need to know.
Which local elections are being held in 2021?
In England, voters will have the opportunity to elect local councillors, police and crime commissioners, elected mayors and London Assembly members if they live in the capital.
In Wales, voters will cast their ballot for members of the Welsh Assembly and police and crime commissioners.
And in Scotland, 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament are up for grabs.
There are no local elections taking place across Northern Ireland. The next assembly election is scheduled to take place in 2022 and local elections in 2023.
When are the elections this year?
As a result of the Covid crisis, parliament passed emergency legislation to delay the following elections which were originally scheduled for May 2020:
- Police and crime commissioners elections in England and Wales
- London mayoral and Greater London Combined authority elections
- English local elections in 118 councils
- Local authority mayors in Bristol, Liverpool and Salford
- 4 combined authority mayoral elections in Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley, and the West Midlands
- Parish council elections in some parts of England
These elections will now take place on May 6 2021. This date is set in law and coincides with the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament elections and some English council elections which were scheduled to go ahead on this date anyway.
Depending on where you live, some people will vote in two or more elections on May 6. Voters in places like Cambridge and Liverpool will have four different elections to take part in on the same day.
Who can vote in local elections?
It will be the first election in which 16 and 17-year-olds and legally resident foreign nationals are allowed to vote in Wales – the largest extension of the franchise in the country since 1969. This only applies to Welsh Parliament elections, with 16 and 17-year-olds needing to wait until they are 18 to vote in other elections.
People who are 16 and 17 have been able to vote in Scotland since 2013 when laws were changed giving them the vote in the Scottish Independence referendum. They can vote in Scottish Parliament elections and local elections but have to wait until they are 18 to vote in other elections.
In England and Northern Ireland, people can not vote in any election until they are 18 years old.
Why are local elections so important?
Put simply, local elections are important because those who are elected have the power to make changes to our lives.
Depending on the role they held, different local leaders have different responsibilities – you will be able to find out more by visiting your local council website, the website for the Scottish or Welsh parliaments, the London Elects page if you live in the capital and the Choose My PCC service for police and crime commissioners.
Finding your directly elected mayor might be more tricky but the best way to find out if you have a mayoral election is to visit your council website.
She has the authority… to tell you to register to vote! @jackieweaver tells us all why it's important to register to vote before the deadline on April 19. That's this Monday!
— The Big Issue (@BigIssue) April 15, 2021
“Elected councillors will make big decisions about how to provide many vital local public services which are all too often taken for granted by local communities, from collecting the bins each week and fixing our potholes to caring for our most vulnerable,” says councillor James Jamieson, the chairman of the Local Government Authority, which represents councils.
“The highly-valued services delivered by councils – including public health, adult social care, children’s services, homelessness support, provision for the vulnerable and those in financial hardship – have been absolutely crucial to the COVID-19 response by protecting lives and livelihoods.”
How will Covid-19 restrictions affect voting?
Local elections are not affected by lockdown rules and voting is a permitted, lawful reason to leave your home.
According to the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, local authorities are “working hard to ensure that the elections can take place safely and fairly within the current public health context”.
The Government says polls will run “as normally as possible” with rules set out in legislation and guidance for “sensible” measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.
Social distancing and other safety measures such as face coverings, hand sanitiser, screens and distance markings will be in operation in polling stations where possible.
What can I expect in polling stations during the local elections?
The UK Government says you can expect to see the things we have become used to during the coronavirus crisis. This includes:
- Social distancing (inside and outside venues)
- A limited number of people inside polling stations
- Masks worn by staff and voters
- Voters bring their own pen or pencil
- Maximum ventilation
- Plastic screens (where appropriate)
- Hand sanitiser
- Regular cleaning
Every government has splashed out to make sure the voting process is safe and sanitary.
In England and Wales, an estimated £92 million of Government funding has been provided to returning officers — who oversee the vote — and local authorities for the election. Of this, £31 million is an increase to directly address costs associated with making the elections Covid secure.
In Scotland, the January budget included £34.9 million to support returning officers in the safe running of May’s parliamentary local elections. This is an additional £14 million compared to the 2016 election for an expected additional cost.
How do I register to vote in the 2021 local elections?
The register to vote website has all the information you need to know about getting on the electoral register or changing your details and it’s a very straightforward process
You can use the register to vote website to vote in all the elections on 6 May.
You must be aged 16 or over to register (or 14 or over in Scotland and Wales where the voting age for devolved and local elections is lower).
The deadline for registering to vote in the May 6 elections is 11:59 pm on 19 April.
What is a police and crime commissioner?
Police and crime commissioners are elected to make sure that local police meet the needs of the community. Given how much scrutiny policing has been under in the months leading up to the local election, there could be heightened interest in the role of local police and crime commissioners and what they promise.
According to the GOV.uk, you can contact your local PCC about:
- How your area is policed
- The police budget
- The amount of Council Tax charged for the police
- The information you get about what the local police are doing
The first-ever police and crime commissioners were elected in November 2012. There are 39 due to be elected in May’s local elections.
You can find your local police and crime commissioner through the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.
The ChooseMyPCC website has now launched and has all the information about the candidates for local commissioners around the country.
You can search by location, such as your postcode or police force areas or by candidate name if you know somebody who is standing.
The police.uk website is also a good place to find out more about your area, potentially providing insight into the issues that matter the most near you to help you to make an informed choice.
Can I vote in the Mayoral elections?
Depending on where you live, you might be able to vote for a directly-elected mayor.
According to the Electoral Commission, there are four types of mayor: the Mayor of London, combined authority mayors, local authority mayors and ceremonial mayors.
The mayor you have depends on where you live and some residents might have more than one mayor.
The Mayor of London is perhaps the most well-known mayor and a familiar face to even those who live outside the capital. This is currently Labour’s Sadiq Khan,
— London Elects (@londonelects) March 22, 2021
Combined authority mayors lead a combined authority – where a group of local councils work together on issues that affect the whole area.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority sees ten councils – Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan – work together on issues such as transport and regeneration. It is led by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.
Local authority mayors are elected to lead the local council in one area, such as Marvin Rees, who leads the city council in Bristol.
There are also mayors who take on a ceremonial role, but these mayors are not elected.
The best way to find out if you have a mayoral election is to visit your council website. This will tell you if you live in a combined authority area or if there is a directly-elected mayor who oversees your council.
In London, you can find out about the candidates for London mayor by visiting London Elects.
Who is running for mayor of London?
London’s mayor is the most powerful directly-elected politician in the UK and sets out a vision for the city and has a large budget to get things done.
Most pollsters predict a two-horse raise between incumbent Sadiq Khan and his Conservative challenger Shaun Bailey. But there are a raft of candidates vying for control of city hall. Here are the main ones:
Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan hopes to maintain his position as mayor of London, promising to protect jobs, oppose Government austerity and build a “better, fairer and greener city”.
Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey is calling for a “fresh start” for London with pledges that include more police, a restored transport system and 100,000 new homes.
Green politician Sian Berry wants “fresh thinking” for housing, a clear plan to keep London moving and will try to make London the “greenest city in the world”.
Lib Dem Luisa Porritt wants to “take London forward” and is focusing on three key things: jobs, homes and clean air.
Aside from the “big four” candidates – a large number of would-be politicians have thrown their hat into the ring. Actor Laurence Fox, for example, is standing under the banner of the “Reclaim Party” to give Londoners back their “freedom”, and Count Binface has promised to give Buckingham Palace to homeless Londoners if elected. You can see a full list on the London Elects website.
What is the London Assembly and who do I vote for?
The London Assembly is made up of 25 assembly members and its primary role is to hold the mayor of London to account.
Assembly members also investigate issues that are important to the capital, such as improving the economy.
Assembly investigations are carried out by cross-party committees which cover areas including transport, policing, housing and planning, the economy, health and the environment.
The Assembly can press for changes to national, Mayoral or local policy.
In the Assembly, 11 members represent the whole capital, whereas 14 are elected by constituencies.
The last election was in 2016 and a poll should have been held in 2020 but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The London Elects website has all the information about who’s standing for London mayor, the candidates for the London Assembly and the efforts going on in the capital to make its elections Covid-safe.
What is the Scottish Parliament?
The Scottish Parliament was also founded in 1999 and, like the Senedd, holds the Scottish Government, currently led by the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, to account.
The Scottish Parliament’s 129 members debate issues and make laws for Scotland.
It also proposes how the money it receives from the UK Government and taxes raised in Scotland will be spent.
The Scottish Parliament election was not delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and was scheduled to go ahead in 2021 anyway.
Like Wales, those in Scotland also have two votes – one for a constituency MSP, and another for a regional ballot.
What is the Welsh Assembly?
Senedd Cymru, Welsh Assembly, or Welsh Parliament was established in 1999 and is the democratically elected body that represents the “interests” of Wales.
It makes laws for the country, agrees on Welsh taxes and holds the Welsh Government, which is currently led by Labour leader Mark Drakeford, to account.
There are 60 seats up for grabs in May’s local elections and everyone gets two votes in the Welsh parliamentary elections: a constituency vote and a regional vote.
You can find out more about voting in the Welsh parliamentary elections, as well as who is standing in your constituency using the postcode search on the Welsh Assembly website.
Can I apply for a postal vote in the local elections?
Yes, you can even apply for a postal vote online in England, Wales and Scotland. Voters will have access to three methods of voting:
- In-person at a polling station
- By postal vote
- By proxy vote
Postal voting involves sending off your ballot in the post and proxy voting means getting somebody else to vote for you.
Ministers have confirmed they will change the rules in England to make sure that anyone who is self-isolating can request a proxy vote up to 5 pm on polling day itself.
The Government is also working with suppliers, local authorities and the Royal Mail to ensure the “secure and effective operation of the postal vote system”.
In England and Wales, the deadline to apply for a postal vote is 5 pm on April 20.
In Scotland, the application deadline is 5 pm on April 6.
Can I apply for a proxy vote?
You will need to complete a proxy vote application form to have someone vote on your behalf.
The Electoral Commission says you can choose to vote by proxy for just one election or have a permanent, long-term proxy vote.
They recommend applying early to give your elections team plenty of time to process your application.
The deadline to apply for a proxy vote for the 2021 local elections is 5 pm on Tuesday April 27 in England, Scotland and Wales.
Has campaigning been suspended following Prince Philip’s death?
Party leaders paused their activities to pay their respect to the Duke’s 70-year long career of service to the country.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and around the world.”
Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer added: “The United Kingdom has lost an extraordinary public servant in Prince Philip.”
And Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland paid tribute, adding: “Prince Philip’s long contribution to public life in Scotland will leave a profound mark on its people.”
Campaigning for the 2021 local elections will be paused again on Saturday April 17, the day of his funeral.