Monday, 14 June 2010

Election Costs - Beware the Semi-Attached Figure

How Does He Know?

This is perhaps the most important question you can ask in my opinion. Often all that is required to dispel the superficially-convincing fog that accompanies some statistic or factoid is to ask How did they find out? What would actually be involved in gathering that information? (Darrell Huff, How to Lie with Statistics)

The election (according to the media) is costing £30,000, but where does that figure come from? I am extremely suspicious (as mathematicians tend to be) of any figure plucked out of a hat, especially when (a) it is so exact a round figure (b) there is no breakdown given anywhere that I can find (or sources given by the JEP, like "according to...").
Obviously candidates costs are their own affair; and the constable (chairing the hustings) is not paid extra (above their States salary). However, when figures are run in the national papers for election costs, the costs are mainly those of the political parties, and the candidates election expenses. Because it is not clear where the £30,000 figure comes from, we don't know if candidates election costs have been factored in.

- Clearly there must be some associated costs - overtime for parish staff? heat and light costs at hustings perhaps? Election day costs?
- Costs of some parish staff on election day (but that is a working day, and most the day they'd be paid anyway, or does the Parish ask the States to settle the bill for their wages)? In fact, where there are hustings, does the cost fall on ratepayers? 
- Are the scrutineers paid? How much? (Is this value for money?)
- How much does the paper for election forms cost? Pencils for same? Putting up / taking down booths? Is it ever put out to tender? (In this age of frugality and cost cutting, why not?)
Call me a pernickety old mathematician, I think it would be good to have a breakdown of these kind of expenses before this £30,000 gets bandied about as if it is accurate. At the moment we have a Paul Daniels figure, plucked like magic, out of a hat. Without any breakdown, it could well be just a good illusion.

Teignbridge District Council is quite helpful, because they provide a breakdown of the main cost areas which have to come from the public purse for the election of district and parish counsellors.(1). This form has to be completed so that the associated costs of elections can be made.

- For the hire of each room for the purpose of an election, other than a room which the Returning Officer is entitled to use free of charge, inclusive of heating, lighting and cleaning, each whole day.
- For the heating, lighting and cleaning in case of a room, the use of which the Returning Officer is entitled to use free of charge.
- For adapting and fitting-up of any building or room for the purpose of an election (including the provision of voting compartments and any necessary furniture) and restoring it to fit condition for its normal use.
- For the provision and repair of voting compartments, ballot boxes and stamping instruments.
- For general stationery, postage, telegrams, telephone calls, bank charges and miscellaneous expenses.
- For the conveyance of ballot boxes and ballot papers in those cases where the cost of transport is not included  in the travelling expenses of Presiding Officers
- For printing and providing ballot papers
- For printing and providing official poll cards.
- For printing and providing notices and other documents required and costs of publishing the same.
- Returning Officer's fee for conducting the election and generally performing all the duties which a Returning
Officer is required to perform under any enactments relating to the elections.
- Poll Clerks - remuneration
- Counting Supervisor (i.e. Deputy Returning Officer Limited Powers - count only)
- Counting Assistants
- For services in connection with the despatch and receipt of the ballot papers of persons entitled to vote by post
So to have any idea of costs, we'd need some breakdown of anything along these lines. But there is no evidence that anything like this has been done, yet if Teignbridge can do this - population 125,500 - rather more than Jersey - why can't we? Teignbridge also has district and parish elections, so it is not dissimilar. But they seem to have far more transparency over costing of elections, it has to provide a breakdown to satisfy its auditors. Are the States and Parish auditors doing a good enough job here, because I can't find anything similar?

If you have any information to shed light on this fog, I'd be pleased to know. In the meantime, treat any large round figures with suspicion.

1 comment:

TonyTheProf said...

Watch this space - one Deputy has tabled a question about costs to the States to be answered by Philip "efficiency" Ozouf!