Council drops printer after blunder

By Ted JeoryBALLOT procedures have been tightened after it emerged that up to 1,200 residents were unable to vote because a company failed to print polling cards for a borough-wide election.

By Ted Jeory

BALLOT procedures have been tightened after it emerged that up to 1,200 residents were unable to vote because a company failed to print polling cards for a borough-wide election.

Colchester Borough Council has taken back full control of sending out ballot cards and dropped Royal Mail as delivery agents following problems last year when large numbers of voters felt "disenfranchised" in the Mile End part of the town.

Residents complained after they turned up to their usual polling station to cast their vote for the council and European elections in June last year, only to find it was shut.

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None of them had been sent polling cards containing details of the new voting arrangements and an investigation was launched.

The problem was traced to Scottish printer Docuserve, which had been paid by Colchester Borough Council to produce the polling cards.

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Docuserve was sent electronic details of all registered voters by Town Hall officials in a number of separate batches and the company was then meant to pass on the cards to Royal Mail for delivery - but one batch, for voters in part of the Mile End area, were left untouched by Docuserve.

Vicky Hempstead, borough council electoral services' manager, said: "I sent the Mile End batch in a different e-mail to the others, but it turned out someone from Docuserve just failed to act on it.

"It meant no cards were produced and therefore none were sent out. Docuserve have owned up to it and apologised."

She added: "But for the forthcoming elections, we want to ensure that it does not happen again. We have dropped them as the printer and are using a London company instead.

"We will no longer be using Royal Mail either, even though they weren't at fault. We will use our own staff canvassers - it just means we have more control over things."

A spokesman for Docuserve said: "We have owned up to the error and we apologise. We have also agreed to make a donation to Myland Parish Council."

Myland parish councillor, Patrick Mills, said: "People were very annoyed by the fiasco - in some cases we think the result might have been skewed."

Meanwhile, Richard Agate, parish council chairman, has defended a plan to buy a £200,000 taxpayer-funded bungalow, which will act as the office for the authority's clerk.

He said the parish council tax would have to rise £4 a year to cover the repayment costs, but added councillors had decided they had no alternative but to buy because of a lack of office space in the rapidly-expanding parish.

"If there had been an option which meant better value for local residents, we would have voted for it. Over the short term such an investment might be described as 'speculative', but for longer terms property investment has nearly always been good value," said Mr Agate.

"If you think our clerk just answers the phone and types a few letters, forget it. The amount of work involved amply justifies the need for suitable, central office space."

Colchester Borough Council will discuss the parish council's plan at a meeting on Thurdsay.

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