ELECTIONS cannot be held safely during the coronavirus pandemic, council leaders have insisted despite the Prime Minister’s pleas for them to go ahead.

It is understood Boris Johnson has been urging councils to prepare for local elections on May 6, but Colchester Council’s bosses believe they should be postponed.

Mark Cory, the council’s leader, says local elections should be held in the autumn as the vaccine rollout will have reached all ages by then.

“If we have an election in May, not all age groups will be protected against Covid-19”, he said.

“Local elections see masses of people in one place and lots of politicians wanting lots of votes.

“If they were held in May, there would be a decrease in turnout to polling stations.”

He added: “If the election is held in October I think there will be some issues, but on balance, it’s right to have the election this year.

“It may not be perfect, but autumn would be a better time as we can have more time to plan ahead.”

Mr Cory also said the decision of when to hold the local elections this year should be done independently, not by the Conservative government.

Adrian Pritchard, Colchester Council’s chief executive, believes the elections should be pushed back to later in the year from a health and safety perspective.

Mr Pritchard said: “Local elections should be pushed back until at least mid-July or preferably September or October,” he added.

“The longer they are postponed, the more time we have to plan.

“Many residents quite like to go to polling stations to vote and they may not feel safe doing so in May as it is only a matter of months away.

“I wouldn’t want voters to be disenfranchised.”

However Mr Pritchard has made assurances local polling venues have been booked for May and health and safety risk assessments have been carried out.

He also said about 90 per cent of staff have already agreed to assist with the elections if they are to run as planned.

A poll, by the Local Government Information Unit, has suggested almost 95 per cent of councils in England have concerns about the possibility of having to hold elections in May.

The survey, involving 374 council chief executives, democratic services officers and council leaders, found 66 per cent were very concerned about holding elections in May, and a further 28 per cent somewhat concerned.

Their main fear, according to the poll, was preparing for an election on May 6 only to have it postponed, while worries about recruiting and training electoral workers and disenfranchising voters with Covid concerns were also recorded.

Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the LGIU, said: “Local government is committed to democracy, but the overwhelming view from councils is that it is no longer possible to hold safe and open elections in May.

“The logistical challenges are formidable and there’s a real risk that we effectively disenfranchise millions of people who do not feel safe going to the polls.

“The worst scenario of all would be for the Government to push ahead only to have to make a U-turn late in the day when councils will already have spent a fortune in money and time preparing.

“Better to take a bold decision now to delay the elections and use the additional time to ensure they can be run safely.”