The London Borough of Croydon has cited COVID-19 restrictions to reject a petition calling for a referendum on creating an elected mayoralty.
Local campaign group Democ said that on 3 September it submitted a petition with 17,000 valid signatures calling for a referendum next May, and that this easily exceeded the threshold of 5% of electors, which stands at 13,788.
But the council has refused to start the process of checking signatures against the electoral register on the grounds that no petition can be validly lodged while the COVID-19 restrictions that postponed the May 2020 elections until next May remain in place.
A notice issued by Jacqueline Harris-Baker, Executive Director of Resources and Monitoring Officer, said: “This petition has been determined to be an invalid petition pursuant to Regulation 9(1)(c), as amended by the Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020.
“The reason why the council deems the petition to be invalid is because a valid petition is one which is presented to the local authority to whom it is addressed on a day other than the period beginning with the 16th March 2020 and ending with 5th May 2021.”
A council statement said emergency legislation last April made it clear that a petition requesting a referendum cannot be valid before 6 May 2021.
This has though angered the petition’s organisers. Democ chair Gerry Meredith-Smith said: “There is a desire for change in our borough and a lot of momentum behind the idea of a referendum for a directly elected mayor.
"Will the council listen to the will of the people and go ahead with a referendum on May 6 next year? Will the council now give people the choice over how their town is run and how those responsible are chosen by and accountable to the people?
“Or will they hide behind COVID legislation, using it as an excuse to ignore what a large number of the people of Croydon now demand? Will they prioritise holding on to their current positions and allowances for a few more months, rather than giving the people the chance of a better system and a better future for our town?”