Politics

Rishi Sunak's refusal to call a UK general election in May could cost taxpayers millions

The prime minister could have saved the country a pretty penny by bowing to public opinion and holding a general election in May

Rishi Sunak, general election

Just like the country's trains, nobody knows when the next general election will arrive. Image: Number 10/Flickr/Simon Walker

Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s refusal to call a general election in May could cost the taxpayer around £33m.

By not holding the national poll on the same day as local elections, admin costs will be duplicated and the plebiscite more expensive, calculations from the Mirror have found.

Speculation has grown over the potential date of the next general election. Sunak can choose when to hold an election – with the default and last possible date being 28 January 2025.

General elections are automatically held every five years, but a prime minister can dissolve parliament to hold an early vote. Polling has found nearly half of voters want an election in May.

The prime minister ruled out an election on 2 May last week, telling ITV News West Country: “There won’t be a general election on that day but when there is a general election, what matters is the choice.”

The Mirror compared the cost of the general election portion of the last general and local elections held together – £114.7m in 2015 – with the next national vote held on its own – £140.8m in 2017. When accounting for inflation, the difference is £33.2m.

Election costs are mostly made up of paying returning officers to administer elections and spending on posting candidate mailouts.

However, with polling cards already printed, Sunak would only have made the saving if he called the election in January – otherwise specialist electoral printers would have been overwhelmed with last-minute orders.

The true savings would likely be smaller, as a result of combining venues, said Laura Lock, deputy chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administration.

“If the general election was called at short notice for 2 May there would have been some savings from combining it with Police and Crime Commissioner and local elections. This would mainly be from venues for polling stations and staffing costs, and some from count venues – although combined counts take longer,” Lock told the Big Issue.

“We believe returning officers should continue to be paid a fee for their duties. The role they take on sits outside their day jobs and confers weighty legal responsibilities. If there is any problem with an election, no matter how it has happened, the buck stops with them.”

Voter ID will also be used in a nationwide parliamentary election for the first time, driving up the cost of the poll.

The controversial policy will cost £180m over a decade – with £30 million in staff costs alone, as around 30 million IDs are checked on polling day.

Dr Jess Garland, head of research and policy at the Electoral Reform Society, told the Big Issue: “New voter ID laws present a major challenge to the next general election.

“We know how damaging and disproportionate voter ID was at the local elections with 14,000 voters prevented from voting.

“This is the first time voter ID will be required at a national election, where turnout is usually higher. And whilst we don’t know what the full impact will be, it is likely that we will see many more voters turned away.

“It is critical that the government reviews this policy to avoid damaging public trust in our elections.”

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