Poor response to council survey

By Danielle NuttallONLY 20 county councillors out of 80 responded to a survey designed to improve the number of people turning out to vote, it has been revealed.

By Danielle Nuttall

ONLY 20 county councillors out of 80 responded to a survey designed to improve the number of people turning out to vote, it has been revealed.

Suffolk County Council defended the number of replies to its survey, saying it was a "perfectly respectable" response to the issue.

A special panel was set up last year to develop ways that could increase the number of people voting in elections, which included a survey asking councillors for their views.

However, a report published by the county council has revealed only 20% of the questionnaires sent to its members had been completed and returned.

Conservative county councillor Charles Michell, who sits on the panel, said: "I do not think it's unusual for that kind of response. If we had particularly demanded it, I think I would have been disappointed, but it was discretionary.

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"Secondly, it's not an unusual sample to draw conclusions from and it's a perfectly respectable response, particularly as we did not make it mandatory anyway.

"I think possibly because the results were fairly split down the middle, one could conclude people do not have particularly very strong views one way or another. They probably agreed with our suggestions."

The survey asked councillors to respond to six questions and provide additional comments. Among the issues was whether the new methods of voting, which were trialled in Ipswich and St Edmundsbury in the 2003 elections, should continue in future elections.

They were also asked whether Suffolk County council should campaign for the minimum age of election candidates to be lowered to 18 and for their suggestions for generally improving voter turn out.

The majority of those councillors who did return the questionnaire said they were in favour of continuing trials across the county on different methods of voting and felt the council should campaign to lower the age of election candidates.

Council leader Bryony Rudkin, who completed the survey, said: "I think it's difficult to look at why individuals may or may not have responded. We have discussed this and people respond in different ways and would have made their comments known in a different method.

"Sometimes the issue is more complex. People feel they want to give more information so that they do not necessarily feel a questionnaire is the way they want to respond to things. There may be very valid reasons why people do not do that and we will certainly look at that.

"Improving voter turn out is crucial for everyone and democracy. Recent elections had a higher turn out."

The issue is due to be discussed at a meeting of the council's access and community involvement committee on July 6.

The committee is being pressed to go ahead with pilot schemes operated at local elections last year and support a recommendation to involve young people at meetings to encourage them to get involved in politics.

danielle.nuttall@eadt.co.uk

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