How hard can it be to design a form?

Since writing the following blog, I have been sent this Letter from Electoral Commission – do read it as it helps to explain why there was a delay and that this is now ended – thanks to those of you who re-blogged as this must have helped.

I confess that if someone asked me to design a form for any number of purposes, I would not find the task enjoyable or easy. It is simply not the sort of thing that my mind readily turns to. However I also know several people who would design several forms before Breakfast if they were asked. If you need a form, and have the right human resources, getting one designed should not be too hard!

One of the challenges facing the combined resources of the Home Office, Electoral Commission and 41 people known as Police Area Returning Officers (PARO) right now is to do just that. No one can be a candidate for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner without having filled in a suitable form. However thankfully all of these organisations have teams of people at their disposal to deal with this sort of thing. Between them or seperately they need a form for around 200 people across the country to be allowed to call themselves candidates for the election as Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

I decided that I wanted to stand in this election in Autumn 2011 and was first told about the need for the form in October 2011 by my PARO. He explained that if I wanted to stand as a PCC I would need 100 names and signatures on the form (yet to be designed he stressed). I then set about contacting 100 people who I knew who would be electors in Sussex in October 2012, who reflected the demography of Sussex, were geographically well spread and would be recognisable to many people in Sussex. This task is actually not as easy as it sounds.

As the phone calls, emails and face to face meetings bore fruit, I was delighted with the response from the people I had asked. Most said yes outright, a few said no because they were so opposed to the concept of a PCC that they were not willing to endorse anyone. A few said no because they are members of political parties and would be disqualified from doing so (even though they made it clear I would get their vote). A few said no because they work for organisations that must be seen to be A-political. At present I have a list of around 110 names who are happy to be included in a public list. Some of them are very well-known and influential people. All of the people I asked have busy lives to lead! All of them presume that if there is to be an election, that the form will be designed as a matter of course. 

I last heard from my PARO on Monday 25th June when he addressed all of candidates in Sussex for the election and explained that the form was still not yet available but it would be available from the Electoral Commission at the end of that week. He explained we would need to include a registration number from the electoral roll to be published on 2nd July, one number for each person. This detail is important because electoral registers are provided for all registered political parties, but not for Independent candidates like me. Independent candidates can only get this information from local libraries or Council Offices. The PARO also advised us to include amongst our 100 names, people from a range of backgrounds and geographies. This means that with 13 local electoral registers across Sussex, I would need to visit 13 local libraries as well as meet all 100 people for them to sign the form. He also advised us to get more than 100 names in case there are any errors which would make a given name illegible as far as the form is concerned. All of this goes to explain why the form which some people could design with a big sheet of paper and a crayon in a few hours, is really important for those of us hoping to be elected in an election that is believed to be costing the UK taxpayer £75Million.

The 29th June duly arrived and many of the documents we were waiting for, were found on the Electoral Commission website as promised. However the nomination form was not one of those. I spoke to the PARO who promised to send me a form as soon as it was available.

On Thursday of this week, I received an email from the Electoral Commission inviting me to participate in some form of web-based seminar. It provoked me to ring them up and point out that if people had the time to organise seminars, that they could instead be focused on the production of a form that was essentially 5 weeks late and which I need a great deal more than I do a seminar in September! I spoke to a very nice young man who was clearly keen to help. He promised to find out what was happening and get back in touch. A few hours later he sent an email explaining that the responsibility really lies with the PARO but that the Electoral Commission would not have forms available until the 10th August at the earliest as their forms need to be available in Welsh as well as English. I then rang the PARO who explained that they don’t plan to produce a form themselves but would forward me the form from the Electoral Commission when it was published.

Later on I discovered via the power of twitter that one of the candidates has produced his own form (something of a risk as his PARO may refuse to accept the form that he has designed).

On Friday I got another email from the Electoral Commission. This suggested that the form may not be available until after 10th August, but the latest advice from them was to wait until 8th October to get the form completed in any case. We spoke again and I explained that the time to collect 100+ names plus visit 13 public libraries across an area the size of Sussex could not be achieved in the 11 days from 8th October until the 19th October which is the deadline for submitting applications. In any event my PARO had advised an early submission (the earliest date is 9th October) in case there are any errors on the form that need correcting.

I then spoke to another person at the Commission and was able to clarify that they were not really recommending a delay till the last possible moment. However I did learn that the reason for the delay included the Welsh language translation and sign off from the Home Office. I persevered and got the name of someone at the Home Office who knows what is happening. I spoke to this person who suggested that the Electoral Commission and PARO were really the ones who needed to get a move on and there was no reason for either to suggest the Home Office were at fault. I pressed and the person suggested that they might be able to get me a response by the middle of this coming week to explain what is happening and when I might see a blank form.

I hope that the folk at the Electoral Commission, my PARO and the Home Office will understand that I am mostly a patient person who would not want to put any of them under pressure unnecessarily. They are all civil servants and my experience is that many of our civil servants work much harder than popular opinion suggests. However I am losing my patience with a system that employs lots of well trained officers to produce forms for an election that they are being paid to administer. I DO have a big piece of paper and a set of crayons and I am prepared to use them.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
This entry was posted in Parliament and Democracy, Policing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How hard can it be to design a form?

  1. samchapman says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Sussex Independent candidate on the saga of getting a nomination form in time for it to be completed.

  2. david says:

    ‘The devil is in the detail’ amply illustrated here. A classic bureaucratic exercise in under-achievement.

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