Scarborough Council's handling of DBID ballot 'was carried out correctly' - but there were issues, says inquiry

An independent report into Scarborough Borough Council’s handling of a ballot to decide a destination Business Improvement District (DBID) for the Yorkshire coast was “carried out correctly”, an inquiry has concluded.

Thursday, 12th March 2020, 12:06 pm

Peter Stanyon, Chief Executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, found the regulations were followed correctly but says he believes the overall ballot process wasn’t without issue.

His findings will be presented to a meeting of the council’s Audit Committee on March 19.

He criticised the government’s own BID ballot regulations as “not providing a clear framework”, and found there is conflict with some of the key provisions of election law.

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Mr Stanyon was commissioned by the council to carry out a review into the way it handled the ballot to decide if there should be a DBID for the Yorkshire coast.

He was asked to consider whether the council followed the ballot regulations, if there was evidence of any irregularities and whether the secrecy of the ballot was compromised.

On all three points, Mr Stanyon found there were no issues.

His report says the government’s BID ballot regulations were followed but criticises the legislation as “lacking” and says it creates a great deal of uncertainty.

Mr Stanyon concludes that the process could have been improved and that lessons can be learned by the council.

He says more specific BID ballot expertise should have been available to the council’s otherwise “highly competent” elections team.

He also says the ballot should have been delayed by the 15 days allowed in light of the decision by Redcar and Cleveland Council to withdraw from the process.

Mr Stanyon says this would have given the BID company time to revise – and then communicate - its business plan as well as checking its amended list of voters.

He also has concern with the list of voters supplied to the council because names of bill payers were removed and some ballot papers were to be sent to correspondence rather than billing addresses.

He says he believes using the names of bill payers could have encouraged greater participation in the ballot and that another attempt to resend 42 undelivered ballot papers should have been made.

Mr Stanyon will present his report to the Audit Committee and answer questions.

Cllr Liz Colling, Scarborough Borough Council Cabinet Member for Inclusive Growth, said: “I’d like to thank Peter Stanyon for his detailed and comprehensive report into the council’s handling of the DBID ballot.

“While it is clear that the overall process could have been improved, ultimately, we did follow the regulations and there were no irregularities. We can learn lessons though.

“The legislation for business improvement districts provides no realistic option for us to start again, so now is the time for us to embrace the opportunities presented by the DBID.

“I urge the BID company to begin meaningful engagement with the business community so momentum and work to date is not lost.”