Half-million pound cost of staging vote could pay 26 teachers’ salaries

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The bill for holding the Alternative Vote referendum in Sheffield is estimated to top more than £500,000.

The amount - enough to pay the salaries of 26 newly qualified teachers for a year - has been allocated to cover the cost of paying counting staff and printing ballot papers.

Councils are expected to pay for the referendum before claiming back their costs from central government.

Laws tabled in Parliament estimate the bill will be £562,286 in Sheffield, £336,653 in Rotherham, £275,769 in Barnsley and £420,031 in Doncaster.

Nationally, the referendum will cost the taxpayer £79.8m. It comes at a time when the Government is attempting to cut spending by £80 billion and raise taxes by £30bn by 2014/15.

The referendum, on May 5, will ask voters whether they want to replace the current First-Past-The-Post system, where the candidate with the most votes wins, with an Alternative Vote system, where candidates are ranked in order of preference.

Under AV, the second preferences of defeated candidates are redistributed until one winning candidate receives 50 per cent of the vote.

Liberal Democrat leader and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg, and Labour leader and Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband, both support changing the voting system but Tory leader and Prime Minister David Cameron backs the status quo.

Matthew Elliott, Campaign Director of NO to AV, said: “Nobody asked for this expensive referendum, but Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats were happy to junk their promises to avoid tuition fees and the VAT increase to get a vote on AV.

“As these figures show, the real losers from this referendum will be local taxpayers.”

But a Yes spokesman said: “The real financial scandal in this is the No campaign’s refusal to be open about who is bankrolling them.”

Details of the cost of the referendum came as seven Labour councillors in Sheffield, along with 37 in Barnsley, 12 in Doncaster and one in Rotherham, threw their support behind a ‘Labour NO to AV’ campaign.

One of those who backed the campaign, Coun Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, said: “We must not ignore the threat to our democracy and the principle of one person-one vote that is posed by the Alternative Vote system.

“That’s why on May 5 I will be urging people to vote Labour and vote no to AV.”

Deputy PM Nick Clegg meanwhile took a swipe at his coalition partners, pointing out the Tories used a form of AV to elect David Cameron. “I find it astonishing the Conservatives say AV is good enough for them but not for the rest of the country,” he said.

n Your Say on AV: P36