Two elections on same day put city £111k over budget

The council hired Ingliston's Highland Hall for the count
The council hired Ingliston's Highland Hall for the count
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The process of running the Scottish Parliament election and Westminster electoral reform referendum in Edinburgh went £111,000 over budget.

City council chiefs confirmed the overall cost of running both polls on the same day last May totalled £1.38 million – £111,000 more than the maximum amount the authority is allowed to claim back from the Scotland Office and the UK Election Claims Unit to cover its expenses.

The overspend has been blamed on the additional staffing needed to manage the two counts on the same night.

The decision was also taken to hire Ingliston’s Highland Hall – rather than a council-owned facility – which cost more but provided more space.

Across the two counts, there were nearly double the number of staff than at previous election counts in a bid to ensure the city was not hit by any of the embarrassing glitches which marred counts in the Capital in the past.

Alastair Maclean, the council’s director of corporate governance, said: “The overspend is substantially due to the combination of election and referendum, which led to the council incurring more costs than normal.

“The count venue was larger and more costly, there were more count staff and the work involved in printing and processing postal votes was immense.”

He insisted that the extra costs were all “justifiable in that they were necessary to deliver a secure, transparent and efficient election.”

The council is to continue to demand that the full £1.38m bill is met by the Scotland Office and the Elections Claims Unit, but could face having to take the £111,000 out of other budgets.

The extra measures in Edinburgh were taken after the 2007 count for the Scottish Parliament and local elections had to be abandoned part way through after problems with electronic counting machines.

Councillor Ricky Henderson, finance spokesman for the Labour group on the council, said: “You always want elections to be run properly but I did not think it was the role of Edinburgh council taxpayers to underwrite and subsidise costs.

“While costs have been increased, surely these costs should be reimbursed.

“I will be asking for this issue to be pressed further. I realise democracy comes at a price but I would have thought central government would fund that.”

The decision by the Westminster coalition to hold the referendum on electoral reform on the same night as the Scottish Parliament elections received heavy criticism at the time from the SNP.

SNP MSP Colin Keir, who won election to the Edinburgh West constituency last May and remains a councillor in Edinburgh until this May, said: “We had concerns about the two elections at the same time because of what happened in 2007. It was the wrong thing to do and just another example of Westminster ignoring what is happening up here.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Due to the scale of the election and the referendum last year the costs were higher than they have been previously. We are seeking to recover the full amount from the UK Government.”

Nobody at the Scotland Office was available to comment.