Ministers are being urged to provide urgent clarity about the date of the next Mayoral and London Assembly elections to avoid potentially wasting millions of pounds of public money.
Unlike most elections in the UK, counting for the Greater London Authority elections is carried out at a small number of regional venues using a computerised system which scans and counts each ballot paper.
Because of the proportional electoral systems used in the City Hall contests, the electronic system allows for the declaration of a result far sooner than would be possible if votes were counted manually.
Earlier this week Jeff Jacobs, City Hall’s top official, told members of the London Assembly’s Election Review Panel that a manual count could take as long as three days, excluding any time needed for recounts.
The need to secure access to venues large enough to accommodate the counting systems, and the requirement to tender for the system itself and then test it ahead of polling day, means preparations for the next set of elections would normally need to start within the next six months.
However with the next contest set to clash with the 2020 General Election there has been talk of moving London’s election to 2021, as has happened with elections to other devolved bodies.
Mr Jacobs told AMs he had been pressing the Cabinet Office for a definitive statement on ministers’ intentions to allow him to make the necessary arrangements but has yet to receive a response.
City Hall officials are concerned that any delay in announcing whether the election is going to be pushed back could see them booking venues and contractors for 2020 only to have to cancel and rebook should the date be changed.
Assembly Member Len Duvall, Chair of the review panel, says ministers must take notice of these concerns and provide clarity as soon as possible.
He commented: “The London elections are the most complex in the UK. They involve 4 votes, 3 ballot papers, 3 voting systems, 8 million votes, the distribution of 6 million information booklets, 4000 polling stations, the coordination of 12,000 staff and a budget of £18 million over 4 years.
“If the general election is to happen at the same time as the London elections, we need to know now. These things take years to coordinate.
“Contracts need to be procured, plans take 2-3 years to put in place and a ‘wait and see’ attitude is not an option.
“The government needs to make a call. Are we running both elections at the same time, or are we rescheduling the London elections, to avoid a perfect storm of confusion for voters?
“The call has to be made and it has to be made within the next 6 months. We need a decision soon.”
The Cabinet Office has been asked to comment.