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Council boss vows to forfeit £20,000 after poll chaos

SHEFFIELD Council chief executive John Mothersole has volunteered to give up his £20,000 returning officer's payment after the election chaos which left hundreds of people unable to vote.

Mr Mothersole, who was in charge for all local and General Election arrangements in Sheffield, said the move was a "personal decision" in response to criticism over the fiasco.

He made the announcement after revealing the council had launched an inquiry, which will be conducted by its own officials working with the Electoral Commission.

"We are in the process of trying to get to the bottom of what went wrong and hope the investigation will come to a quick conclusion," Mr Mothersole said.

He estimated about 400 people were unable to vote by the 10pm deadline at four polling stations where huge queues had built up on Thursday - Ranmoor, Millhouses and Ringinglow Road, in Hallam constituency, and Woodseats in Heeley constituency.

A dozen police were called to Ranmoor polling station as angry voters refused to leave the polling station and one woman was threatened with arrest for trying to stop ballot boxes being collected without her vote.

The number of votes would not have made a difference to the overall result in either constituency, where Labour MP Meg Munn secured a majority of 5,807 in Heeley and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg won by 15,284 in Hallam.

But had the problems affected polling stations in Central, where Labour's Paul Blomfield beat the Lib Dems' Paul Scriven by just 165 votes, the outcome could have been affected.

Mr Mothersole said: "Although both seats were won with substantial majorities, I recognise everyone has a right to be able to cast their vote. In some locations in Sheffield we got things wrong and that's unacceptable. I do not excuse nor hide from this fact.

"I apologised on the night for what happened, which also occurred in several other parts of the country.

"I have never wanted to be one of those civil servants who failed to acknowledge their mistakes and pretended lessons could not be learned.

"That's why I volunteered to give up my fee. I wanted to do it privately but after comments made about me, which have been hurtful - this is the city where I live with my family - I decided to make the decision public."

Richard Caborn, who stood down at the General Election after 27 years as Labour MP for Sheffield Central, and attended the count, said: "It's a welcome gesture by John Mothersole."

Mr Caborn suggested there must have been a reduction in the number of people deployed to man the polling booths. "There was a big increase in turnout - 12 per cent in my old constituency - leading to inevitable pressure.

We need to look again at staffing arrangements," he said.

But a Sheffield Council spokeswoman told The Star 536 staff manned the booths at 207 polling stations this year - compared to 483 workers at 201 polling stations for the 2005 General Election.

Mr Mothersole said the decision to collect all ballot papers for the local and General Elections in the same box was to make things simpler for voters - although he accepted it delayed the count, which did not start until 3am.

Cat Wilson, a presiding officer at one South Yorkshire polling station, said staff could have coped by being more efficient.

She said: "My station had a much increased vote but everyone who wanted to voted. We need to look who we are appointing - it is a long and pressurised day and you need to be quick-witted and have the ability to think on your feet."

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"I have never wanted to be one of those civil servants who failed to acknowledge their mistakes and pretended lessons could not be learned.

"That's why I volunteered to give up my fee. I wanted to do it privately but after comments made about me, which have been hurtful - this is the city where I live with my family - I decided to make the decision public."

Richard Caborn, who stood down at the General Election after 27 years as Labour MP for Sheffield Central, and attended the count, said: "It's a welcome gesture by John Mothersole."

Mr Caborn suggested there must have been a reduction in the number of people deployed to man the polling booths. "There was a big increase in turnout - 12 per cent in my old constituency - leading to inevitable pressure. We need to look again at staffing arrangements," he said.

But a Sheffield Council spokeswoman told The Star 536 staff manned the booths at 207 polling stations this year - compared to 483 workers at 201 polling stations for the 2005 General Election.

Mr Mothersole said the decision to collect all ballot papers for the local and General Elections in the same box was to make things simpler for voters - although he accepted it delayed the count, which did not start until 3am.

Cat Wilson, a presiding officer at one South Yorkshire polling station, said staff could have coped by being more efficient.

She said: "My station had a much increased vote but everyone who wanted to voted. We need to look who we are appointing - it is a long and pressurised day and you need to be quick-witted and have the ability to think on your feet."

Chaos: An estimated 400 people were unable to vote after queues built up

‘Personal decision': Council chief executive John Mothersole

 
 
 

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