‘Unfair advantage’ for the bigger parties in West Yorkshire mayoral vote, claims candidate

A runner for this spring’s West Yorkshire mayoral elections has claimed taxpayers are effectively “subsidising” larger political parties, as it was revealed each candidate has been asked to spend an extra £4,000 to have their voices included in official election literature.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 2:12 pm

A booklet is set to be delivered to every household in West Yorkshire at a cost of around £650,000, which will include information on each candidate standing in the vote on Thursday, May 6.

But Liberal Democrats candidate Coun Stewart Golton was sent an email by election organisers claiming every candidate was also given the opportunity to provide an “election address” to be included in this booklet, and that those who had done must pay £4,000 each towards the booklet’s production costs.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) which is organising the election, said the £4,000 made up only a small proportion of the £111,000 candidates were permitted to spend on campaign materials, and that this fee was in line with those charged in Manchester and Sheffield for their recent mayoral votes.

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Coun Stewart Golton is standing for the Liberal Democrats in this year's mayoral elections.

But Coun Golton believes this gives an unfair disadvantage to candidates from smaller parties who don’t have the financial means to pay such a fee on top of the £5,000 already charged as a deposit.

He said: “They told me there would be a booklet that would go out to every household in the district.

“Then at the next briefing they come out with what the fee was, as a gesture towards the production costs. For the smaller parties, we all thought ‘just a minute – it’s hard enough raising £5,000 for a deposit, but this is money we will never see again.

“It’s £650,000 being spent by the combined authority to post out to all these electors. What they are asking from the candidates goes nowhere near covering that cost, so it is a gesture at the end of the day.

“When you are deciding the level of that gesture, should you not take into account the ability of people to pay? If the smaller parties find that they are unable to access this material, then other parties get an unfair advantage in getting their message to a wider audience and that is effectively being subsidised by the taxpayers.”

The mayoral election will take place alongside the usual local elections. Coun Golton added smaller political parties with limited funds would have to make difficult decisions on whether to spend money on the booklet, or put more resources into local election campaigning.

In the legislation for the Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017, schedule five of the law covers the delivery of free election addresses.

It states: “Each candidate by whom an election address is submitted to the combined authority returning officer for inclusion in the election booklet shall pay to the combined authority returning officer such reasonable sum (which shall be the same for each such candidate) as the combined authority returning officer may determine by way of contribution towards the expenses incurred by him in respect of the printing of the election booklet.”

A West Yorkshire Combined Authority spokesperson said: “The production of the mayoral address booklet is a legal requirement and a balance needs to be struck between the cost to candidates and to the public through councils and the Combined Authority.

“Following a representation to the Returning Officer, the cost of inclusion has been reduced to £4,000, making the cost per number of electors reached lower than that for booklets produced for mayoral elections in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region and the West Midlands. If a candidate chooses not to contribute to the booklet, their candidacy will still be referenced.

“The contribution to the booklet is a small fraction of the £111,179.16 candidates are entitled to spend on their campaign during the election period and is a highly cost-effective way to reach 1.7m voters.”