Voting matters

PollingStationWE HOSTED a surprise visit to Oldham last week by the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, who is the Shadow Communities Secretary.

We were delighted to receive him and keen to urge Hilary, as we have done with other parties, to keep the need for urban renewal firmly in mind.

There is a currently lot of debate and discussion nationally about building new homes and that is welcome.

We mustn’t forget, however, that there are large swathes of the country – in particular in the North – where far too many properties remain unfit. Homebuyer demand is weak and that creates fertile ground for some private landlords to buy cheaply and make a killing on rent, often paid for by taxpayers through housing benefit.

We need to rethink how we use public money and use whatever cash is available to invest in long-term decent homes which help to create stable communities.

Simply paying out money year after year to private landlords who don’t invest back into their properties isn’t a good use of money – and it isn’t good for tenants either.

Hilary Benn’s visit coincided with the launch of the unofficial General Election campaigns of all political parties last week. The starting gun for May 7 has already definitely been fired and, whatever your political view of the world, we’re all in for an interesting few months.

The subject of elections is what I want to blog about this week although not the politics behind them (you might be glad to read!), but the actual process.

Since last summer Oldham Council has been working to implement Individual Electoral Registration, which is the government’s new system for registering to vote. With more than 160,000 people eligible to vote across the borough, this is no simple undertaking.

Registering to vote is important. It ensures you can have your say and influence the decisions that affect you, so you need to make sure that you’re on that new electoral register.

The move to a new system was primarily done to reduce electoral fraud, but also to make it easier for people to register, which you can do online now at:

IER-logo-jpegThe new system requires anyone needing to register to vote to provide their National Insurance number and date of birth. This information is then checked by matching the details to the data held by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Oldham’s electoral register was sent for checking back in June last year and proved to be an 82 per cent match with the data held by the DWP. A local data matching exercise was then undertaken against Council Tax records, which increased that overall figure to 84 per cent.

Following a period of canvassing from July to November last year we have to date now matched 88 per cent of electors under the old system and re-registered them automatically under the new system, which is fantastic.

But that does mean there are still around 7,000 local electors who haven’t been matched under the new system so we are now encouraging these people to come forward.

How are we going to do that? Well, we’ll be writing to every household at the end of January/beginning of February advising them which individuals we have registered at that address and asking them to contact us if the information is incorrect.

If you are not sure if you are registered under the new system then you should call the Elections team on 0161 770 4718 – and will need to provide your National Insurance number and date of birth.

Being registered is vital because anyone who hasn’t registered to vote under the new system by the end of 2015 may receive a fixed penalty notice – so make sure that’s not you(!).

Not being registered could also impact on your life in other ways. It could make it harder for your address to be verified by companies when you’re trying to get a mobile phone contract, for example or a loan or mortgage, because credit reference agencies use the register to confirm where you live

Your democratic right to vote is also, of course, hard fought and important, so please ensure that you are registered and engaged.

Finally this week, I was honoured to attend a commemorative event for the late Councillor Phil Harrison last Friday.

Phil was a dedicated public servant who fought hard to give a voice to those who found it difficult to speak up for themselves.

His portfolio as a Cabinet Member was for social services and community health, and as part of this he led the work for the Link Centre to become a facility for independent living where people with a wide range of disabilities can get advice and support to live independent lives.

I am delighted a suite at the Link Centre has now been named after him. Remembering those who make a difference is important.

Thanks for listening,