THE people of St Helens will have the power to make wholesale changes at the ballot box after a switch to all-out elections was backed by councillors.

Currently, St Helens Borough Council sees a third of its councillors elected every year over a four-year cycle, with no elections in the fourth year.

An all-out election, which sees all seats up for election every four years, will be called in St Helens in 2022 as part of the forthcoming boundary review.

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At full council on Wednesday, a formal proposal to permanently switch to all-out elections was backed by a majority of councillors, although the council's five political parties were split on the matter.

This means that after the all-out election in May 2022, no elections will take place until 2026 – unless there is a by-election – where all council seats will be contested.

Labour had already decided as a group that they would be backing the switch back in February, meaning the result was always a foregone conclusion given the grip they have on the town hall.

But The Independents also showed their support for the switch, with former Labour cabinet member Gill Neal and the group's leader, James Tasker, speaking in support of the move.

"I think it could potentially help improve voter turnout across St Helens, where some areas its quite low," Cllr Tasker said.

"In some wards I think it goes below 20 per cent. I know in Rainhill we've got one of the highest, but we can still improve that here as well.

“Because one of the arguments people say is, and we see it every time there's an election, that it's very hard, if not impossible under the current system to get rid of the government or local government in one clean swoop.

“So by switching to all-out elections we can really reach out to people and say that your vote does matter, it does count, you've got the chance today, tonight to see real change in the town.

“So I fully support it."

St Helens Star: Cllr James Tasker, leader of The Independents, backed the move to all-out electionsCllr James Tasker, leader of The Independents, backed the move to all-out elections

The Liberal Democrats, the joint biggest opposition group along with The Independents, said they opposed switching to all-out elections, although all four councillors subsequently voted in favour of the move.

Cllr Michael Haw, Lib Dem councillor for Eccleston, later said on Twitter that there was some “confusion” over the vote, and said they would be speaking to officers to have the recorded vote "rectified".

However, a council spokesman told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it is not now possible to in any way seek to amend the result of the vote.

During the meeting, Cllr Haw said the Lib Dems feel elections should remain by thirds because it ensures a regular return of new members and allows judgement of a council annually, rather than every four years.

He said this provides more "immediate political accountability" and said it encourages people to maintain regular voting habits.

Cllr Allan Jones, leader of the Conservative group on the council, said both systems had their own merits, but they believed it would be better to continue with the current system.

"We feel that we are elected as servants of the people and the people should have the right at every possible opportunity to change who they want to serve them on this council,” he said.

Cllr Jones, ward councillor for Rainford, also cited a survey that was carried out by the council, asking the public whether they would want to stick with the current system or switch to all-out elections.

A total of 41 people answered the survey – including two people from Rainford – with a majority of 23 (56 per cent) saying they would prefer to stick to election by thirds.

“That is a firm majority,” Cllr Jones said. “We believe with going with what the people want to do.

“We will support the people as the people support us."

St Helens Star:

The Green Party also said they would not support the switch.

Cllr David O'Keefe, leader of the Greens on the council, questioned the £150,000 anticipated savings by moving to four-yearly elections that is outlined in the report.

He said this could be negated by by-elections.

Summing up, council leader David Baines said moving to all-out elections was not a party-political issue, but is about what is best for the borough and the council.

He also took a final swipe at his political rivals, saying Labour will be the "only serious option on the ballot paper", but stressed the switch was first and foremost a "cost-saving” one.

Cllr Baines said: "If we don't move to all-out elections we will have to find £150,000 from other services, it's as simple as that.

"It is also more democratic, as members of The Independent group have pointed out, in their own way.

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“It is more democratic, providing clarity and certainty for the public and for the council for four-year periods."

The switch to all-out elections, with effect from the ordinary day of elections in May 2022, was passed following a recorded vote, with Conservative and Green councillors voting against.

Members also resolved to move parish council elections to match those of St Helens Borough Council.