HOLDING by-elections to fill currently vacant council seats could take place as early as March, the Welsh Government has confirmed.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a decision was taken last year to postpone all elections, which includes by-elections and the Police and Crime Commissioner poll which had been pencilled in for May 2020.
As a result, a seat on Anglesey Council representing the Holyhead ward remains empty following the death of Shaun Redmond last April, and another in the Seiriol ward after the resignation of Lewis Davies at the turn of the year.
Following the death of Charles Wyn Jones in November, the Llanrug ward also remains without a designated representative on Gwynedd Council, for the time being, also the case in Flintshire Council’s Gwernymynydd ward after the death of Cllr Kevin Hughes earlier this month.
Another empty seat exists in Wrexham’s Maesydre following the resignation of Paul Jones, as well as on Conwy and Denbighshire councils following the deaths of Dave Cowans and Huw ‘Chick’ Jones, representing Eirias and Corwen respectively.
But this week, the Welsh Government confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service that authorities will be permitted to hold elections – if more than one candidate comes forward for the respective seats – as early as March 1.
A spokesperson said:
“Local Government by-elections in Wales may take place between 1 March and 6 May 2021.
“The 10-week window has been provided to allow Returning Officers to hold the postponed by-elections at a time that is suitable for their local circumstances and allows for the changing public health situation in different parts of Wales to be taken into account when planning.”
In response, Gwynedd Council confirmed that discussions are currently underway on the matter.
An Anglesey Council spokesman added: “The Isle of Anglesey County Council intends to hold both by-elections within the 10-week window provided if Coronavirus regulations permit.
“Our electoral team will soon consider possible dates, in consultation with Anglesey’s Returning Officer, Mrs Annwen Morgan.”
With Wales set to also hit the polls on May 6 for the Welsh Parliament’s General Election, emergency legislation is being sought to delay the democratic exercise for up to six months if it is decided that holding it would not be feasible due to Covid-19.
Speaking on Wednesday, health minister Vaughan Gething said that it would “guard against the possibility that Covid rates are so significant that we cannot have an election”.
He added, however, that any delay would be considered as “absolutely a last resort” though that organising an election during the pandemic presents “real practical challenges.”
Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James, added:
“We are determined to do everything in our power to ensure people can vote when the election takes place.
“However, due to the unpredictable nature of coronavirus, there is significant uncertainty about what the situation will be like in May.
“That is why we are seeking the Senedd’s consent to introduce an emergency bill that would give Members of the Senedd the powers necessary to manage the conduct of the election, in order to protect public health.
“If the prevalence of the pandemic requires that the election is postponed, the Bill will provide the powers, to be used as a last resort, to postpone the election for up to six months.
“The Bill would ensure this is subject to the agreement of two-thirds of Members of the Senedd, which means all Members would have a role in the final decision.”