Returning officers are entitled under the Representation of the People Act 1983 to receive payments for administering election polls, as those responsibilities fall outside their local authority duties.
These are some of the highest paid public servants in the land, sometimes on salaries of about £200,000. How can we continue to justify paying these people extra sums of £30,000 or so just to do another task, for which their salary should be more than enough to compensate them?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I look forward to meeting him next week to discuss these matters further. Before the previous Government left office they increased the fees to returning officers, allowing fees to be paid uncapped for multiple constituencies. We in this Government froze those fees from that time. I look forward to our discussions and to hearing my hon. Friend’s views, which I know he has thoroughly researched.
May I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new post and ask him to give consideration to the situation where returning officers have often made numerous mistakes during elections? We had this happen several years ago in Warrington when the wrong people were declared elected for some parish poll, yet there is no provision to reduce or take away the returning officer’s fee when that happens. Should that not happen? Will the Minister consider that?
I am happy to take on board the hon. Lady’s suggestion. Of course, returning officers do not need to accept the fee. There are some honourable examples where returning officers have not taken the full fee to which they are entitled. That option is available to them.