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Borough council suspends two officers following report into General Election fiasco

Two council officers have been suspended following an independent review into problems faced by voters in Newcastle during the General Election.

The Acting Returning Officer - who is also the Borough Council's Chief Executive - as well as the Head of Audit and Elections, who is the Monitoring Officer, will now face an internal disciplinary process.

The independent review was commissioned by the Borough Council after it received complaints before, during and after the election in June.

The report has revealed that 500 people were not sent postal votes, while nearly 1,000 others weren't included in the electoral register.

Two people not entitled to vote were actually able to.

Report author Andrew Scallan says that at the root of the issues were inadequate performance by the Acting Returning Officer/Electoral Registration Officer, the Head of Audit and Elections and consultants, accentuated by the fact that the elections office staff were inexperienced and under-resourced.

This led to an over-reliance on software systems which were not fully understood, as well as missed opportunities to identify what had gone wrong, take effective remedial action and seek advice from outside the council.

It also highlighted a failure to switch software to ‘election mode’, which resulted in the names of 397 electors being missed off the printed polling station registers, and a further 112 across the other 3 constituencies included in the borough.

Labour's Paul Farrelly held on to the Newcastle seat by just 30 votes - the third smallest majority on election night. Conservative Owen Meredith came second.

Councillor Elizabeth Shenton, the Leader of the Council, has apologised on behalf of the authority for the failings.

She said: "We have never experienced significant difficulties like this in our borough before during the many elections we have run whether they were for Parliament, Staffordshire County Council, national referendums or our own borough council.

"However, this review indicates a number of problems. I sincerely apologise on behalf of the Council for that situation but we can't turn the clock back and right any wrongs which occured at that time."

Ms Shenton has asked the Mayor to call a special meeting of Full Council to consider the whole report and its 16 recommendations, which includes more training for staff.

This is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 5 December at 7pm in the Civic Offices in Newcastle.

Councillor Shenton added: "In the meantime, the Council has already taken some steps prior to that meeting over and above the two suspensions.

"An advert has been placed for a new post of Electoral Services Manager. The Council is also working with the Local Government Association to bring in experienced elections staff from another local authority to help us deal with two Borough Council by-elections early in December and begin preparations for our first all-out council elections in May 2018."

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