Concern over PCC big party bias in Essex
Six of the candidates for Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in Essex have said a lack of state funding for mail shots and access to the Postal Vote Register unfairly penalises independent and smaller party candidates.
The PCC, who will replace the police authority, will be responsible for setting priorities for the police force, overseeing its budget and hiring the chief constable.
Chelmsford City Council, which is acting as the returning office for the Essex PCC election, said under law it was not allowed to give out details of the Postal Voter Register until 8 October.
Responding to the criticism, a Home Office spokesman said: "Every household will receive information about the November elections for PCCs from the Electoral Commission.
"Furthermore, information about every candidate will be published online and, for anyone who wants it, delivered in written form, via a free phone line. Everyone will be able to get the information they need about every candidate standing."
Prospective candidates who have so far put their names forward have told the BBC of their concerns:
MICK THWAITES - Independent
Independent Mick Thwaites said: "With turnout for the PCC elections being predicted to be as low as 15%, then our ability to talk to these all important postal voters could be election changing.
"Obviously political candidates already have unlimited access to these records from their parties, handing them yet another hugely unfair advantage over independent candidates."
He said independent candidates were also disadvantaged by having to stump up £5,000 deposit (compared to the £500 deposit prospective MPs have to provide) and no state funding for candidates to send out a mail shot.
"All I want is a level playing field and the candidates to be judged on their merits."
LINDA BELGROVE - Independent
Independent candidate Linda Belgrove said when the government was putting forward the plans for the PCC elections "they said they were looking for independent people to stand, but the reality is it is completely weighted in favour of anyone with a political party behind them".
"It is really difficult to stand as an independent."
She said not providing state funding for a mail shot was "very mean" and added: "Everything is coming out of my purse and my bank. Free mail shots would help all of us."
She said failing to help candidates get their views over all the electors "is actually discrimination against the people of Essex".
JOHN GILI-ROSS - Independent
Independent candidate John Gili-Ross said: "As far as I can see it is stacked against the independents - who are probably the better qualified candidates.
"It is absolutely appalling the way this has been thought through. It would appear that they want a party political person in place."
He said the government had either deliberately "put barriers in place against independents standing" or "has been completely inept".
Mr Gili-Ross added the cost of mail shots to everyone in the county "would be enormous".
ANDREW SMITH - UK Independence Party
The UKIP candidate Andrew Smith said there were major concerns with the possibility of a fair election when only the larger parties had the resources to leaflet people.
"There are problems. It is rather inevitable considering the way the PCC elections have been handled. The way it's being run, there is an inbuilt bias towards the larger established parties," he said.
He said with the London Assembly elections, parties paid a fixed fee so their views got included in a booklet sent to all electors.
"I think it would be reasonable to ask a party to pay an amount towards it. The taxpayer should not pay for everything," he said.
ROBIN TILBROOK - English Democrats
English Democrats candidate Robin Tilbrook said as the government was already providing state funding for leaflets about the election it would not cost much more to also include information about the candidates in the same mail shots.
"We have 1.3 million electors in Essex. I was saying to the government minister, 'if you want to achieve an election with lots of independent candidates you need to have a booklet (with candidates' views) going to every elector paid for by the government'.
"The reason why there is not any help for candidates is simply to advantage the Conservatives.
"They don't want to encourage other people standing. Independents are at a real disadvantage."
VAL MORRIS-COOK - Labour
Labour candidate Val Morris-Cook said the government should provide state funding for a mail shot to electors in Essex as well providing earlier access to the postal vote register.
"This works against everybody apart from the Conservatives. Other parties, like Labour, do not have the same resources to pay for expensive mail shots as the Conservatives.
"There should be a level playing field for all candidates. I think the government needs to relook at this."
She said it cost about £70,000 to send out mail shots to the electors of Essex which is a lot of money for candidates to find.
NICHOLAS ALSTON - Conservative
Conservative candidate Nick Alston said he understood the concerns about postal voting data.
"I understand why the law doesn't allow individuals to access postal voting data until they are either officially nominated or they have joined or formed a party for their campaign," he said.
"Until then they do not fall under the same strict rules that apply to candidates standing for registered political parties.
"Any candidate can set up a political party for themselves and get access to the data, but they would also place themselves under the same regulation as candidates standing for other parties."