Elections postponed due to coronavirus

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Local elections due to take place in May 2020 are to be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Council elections were due to be held on May 7 in Sunderland, South Tyneside, Hartlepool, Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside.

Elections for Police and Crime Commissioners in Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland were also due to take place.

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The Tees Valley mayoral election was due to be held this May, as well as those for Greater Manchester, Liverpool, and the West Midlands.

Durham and Northumberland County Council’s are not due to hold elections again until 2021.

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has postponed the ballots due to coronavirus.

A Government spokeswoman said: "We will bring forward legislation to postpone local, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections until May next year.

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"We will also work with the devolved administrations to ensure that they have the necessary powers to do the same."

It came after the Electoral Commission sent an open letter to the Government expressing its concerns.

In a letter to the Government, Electoral Commission chief executive Bob Posner said that many people will either not have the opportunity to vote on May 7, or will choose not to, because of the Covid-19 crisis.

He added that local councils have concerns over their ability to staff polling stations, while campaigning from candidates “may not be possible, leaving insufficient space for the arguments to be heard”.

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Mr Posner said: “Clearly any decisions to delay elections which are due is significant and would not normally be desirable; however, we are in unprecedented times.

“The risks to delivery that have been identified are such that we cannot be confident that voters will be able to participate in the polls safely and confidently, nor that campaigners and parties will be able to put their case to the electorate.

“We therefore call on the Government to take steps to provide early clarity to all those with an interest in the electoral process; and on the available information and position we recommend the Government now delay the 7 May polls until the autumn.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen was among the first to react.

He said: “It is essential that decisions are based on the best available evidence from medical experts so that we do all we can to keep everyone safe. The decision by the Prime Minister to postpone local, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections is the right thing to do at this time.

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“It has been an honour and a privilege serving the people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool over the past three years and I look forward to continuing for the next 12 months.”

Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger said: “The COVID-19 virus is an international crisis which requires the immediate implementation of appropriate measures to slow the spread of the virus and reduce levels of infection. Those measures should be based on facts and appropriate scientific and medical advice.

“In the face of such advice, the Government has taken the step of postponing the PCC and other elections due to take place in May. I understand this course of action and I will be remaining in post as Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland until elections are held.

“I currently attend on a daily basis the Gold group set up by the Force to respond to the crisis and I want to re-assure the public that the force and my office are committed to maintaining stability over what will be a difficult period for our communities.

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“In addition I will continue as far as is possible with the normal day to day business of working with partners to reduce offending, listening to public concerns about policing and community safety, supporting vulnerable victims, and ensuring Cleveland Police continue on their journey of improvement.”