Headlines: December 19th, 2003

The Government has launched a consultation process ahead of the referenda on the creation of elected regional assemblies. The exercise will cover campaign spending limits, the registration of permitted campaign groups and the running of a local referendum by all-postal ballot.The consultation comes before the votes on regional assemblies in the North West, the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber, which are expected to take place next autumn. Because the referenda will take place at the same time, the consultation paper proposes that they should be operated under the same set of rules.

It says these will be more straightforward for both voters and administrators. The framework for regional referenda is set out in the Political parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000, and it is proposed that the local votes on the options for restructuring local government should operate under similar terms.

One consultation paper looks at how those who might wish to spend more than 10,000 pounds campaigning in regional or local referendums should register and how much money they should be able to spend. The maximum permitted spend by any sort of campaign group would be 940,000 pounds in the North West, but most campaigners would not be able to spend more than a hundred thousand. The second paper covers combining the regional and local referendums, local referendum rules and the conduct of all-postal ballots.

Individuals and bodies thinking of campaigning in the forthcoming regional and local referendums will be consulted as part of the exercise. Copies of the consultation papers are being sent to stakeholders in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber, all English local authorities, regional chambers and a range of other groups. Their responses will be taken into account before the rules of participation in the referenda laid before Parliament in the Spring. The deadline for responses is February 16th.