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First council tax referendum among Bedford's quintet of polls

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The first referendum ever called on a council tax increase is among five elections taking place at Bedford BC on Thursday, the largest number for any council area.

Chief executive Phil Simpkins must contend with polls for two parliamentary seats, an elected mayor, the borough council and parish councils in addition to the referendum.

He told LGC he had taken on an unprecedented 24 temporary staff, more than double the normal recruitment for a single election, and would need teams to count each set of results in succession.

Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner Olly Martins (Lab) sparked the referendum when he imposed a 15.8% increase in his council tax precept, far above the 2% trigger for a poll.

He said the £4.5m raised would be used to provide 100 extra police constables. The increase has taken effect but would have to be refunded if the referendum resulted in a ‘no’ vote.

Mr Simpkins said his staff would first count the parliamentary elections for Bedford and North East Bedfordshire on Thursday night.

Mayoral and council elections would be counted on Friday afternoon, parish councils on Saturday and the referendum next Monday.

“Ever since the Fixed Term Parliament Act was passed [in 2011] we’ve known this would happen so have been able to prepare for it,” Mr Simpkins said.

“It’s a logistical challenge and the big thing has been the postal votes, since they each have to be verified for signatures three times over for the parliamentary election, then the mayor and council together, and for the referendum.”

Mr Simpkins said he could not estimate the cost of the multiple elections since some would be met by the commissioner and the government.

Referendum results will be counted separately in Bedford, Central Bedfordshire Council and Luton BC and be collated and announced by the latter.

A further complication is that some parliamentary and council boundaries differ; meaning affected ballot papers must be verified in one area then moved to another for counting.

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