The Rt Hon Gordon Brown
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

A. citizen
100 Any Road
Typical Town


Date:   28th February 2008
 Dear Prime Minister

National Referendum how much does it cost?

Although I have attempted to find information (on the Internet) about how much it costs to fund a referendum in the UK I have not been able to find how much either now or in the past a national referendum costs.

I have also tried to find out how much it costs to fund a general election as well, as I would have thought that, that information would be easier to find. However I had no success with that Internet search either.

What I did find is an article in an online newspaper about a parish council at xxxx who have had to fund a village based referendum on the EU this cost approximately  £3,000. On this basis if all 10,000 parish councils had a similar referendum the costs would be £30,000,000 thirty million pounds! The inclusion of other authorities, e.g. town and city and municipal authorities would inflate the cost to how much? A hundred times more? In which case the cost would be £3,000,000,000. Three billion pounds would be required for the government to give its consent to a referendum.

I can well understand why any government would be most unwilling to cite costs in denying requests to hold referendums, but surely it cannot be denied that the costs do need to be considered by those who would ask for a national referendum. After all it is the public's money that would have to be spent. Perhaps this issue is an opportunity for all political parties to come to a consensus.

A general election is of course an entirely different matter, as these are essential in a democratic country.

When I have received the information I will publish this letter on together with the facts.  In which case, in future, anyone who wonders how much a referendum costs will have a better idea, and will be able to weigh up whether it is really that important to spend that sum of money that could be better spent on health, Education, Defence,. . ..

 Yours Sincerely

  A. Citizen

The Prime Minister's office asked the Ministry of Justice to reply to my letter. I have received a reply below

Ministry of Justice

Nnenna Orji

Electoral Policy Division, Selborne House,54 Victoria Street, London, SW1E6QW

T 020 7210 8239 F 020 7210 2659 E

1 April 2008

Dear Citizen

Cost of a National Referendum

Thank you for your letter of 28 February, addressed to the Prime Minister, in which you request for information about the cost of a national referendum. Your letter has been passed to the Ministry of Justice for a reply as we have responsibility for the generic policy and the legislative framework for national and regional referendums.

The Department has not made a detailed estimate of the costs of a national referendum. As a guide, we might expect the cost of running a UK-wide referendum to be similar to the cost of a general election. The general election in 2005 cost in excess of £80m. This information was set out in the Department's response to a parliamentary question from Dai Davies MP which was answered on 31 January 2008.

The generic framework for the conduct of referendums in the UK, Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland, is provided by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Under the Act, the Electoral Commission is responsible for the conduct of referendums, including estimation of the costs.

The Act provides that the Chairman of the Electoral Commission is the Chief Counting Officer for any referendum held under the Act. The Chief Counting Officer is required to appoint a counting officer for each relevant local government area in Great Britain. In effect, the Electoral Commission is responsible for the running of a referendum.

In addition to the costs of conducting a referendum, the Electoral Commission would incur its own additional costs. These costs would be reflected in the Electoral Commission's estimate of its income and expenditure, which it is required to submit to Speaker's Committee annually. If approved, the money comes directly from HM Treasury to the Commission.

The Commission currently estimates that these costs would depend on the level of public information activity required, but would likely be in the range of £10-30m.

I hope this information is of some assistance.

Nnenna Orji

  The editor has added bold to emphasize the costs of a referendum, which is considerably less than the calculation in the letter to the PM which overestimated the cost - which apparently does not increase in a linear manner. It is still a lot of money though and there is also the rationale as to whether it is wise to hold national referendums.

I have asked a local teacher that I know who has several degrees including an MPhil and vocational certificates how he felt about referendums. He is of the opinion that we elect our government by a national election to make decisions on our behalf.  Members of Parliament  have the benefit of the team of civil servants and access to expertise that should provide a well informed basis for making the important decisions that affect us all.

Furthermore, he also mentioned the power of the media: newspapers, television and the Internet  which also provides an analysis of the crucial issues that require the best decisions to be made. He mentioned  that we also have the House of Lords which provides a stable body of experienced people who make a significant contribution to the work of the House of Commons.

He felt that he would, personally, feel uneasy about voting in a referendum as he doesn't have sufficient knowledge to make a wise decision and that he like others, would be dependent on the media, which in the case of the newspapers have considerable power which is to some extent in the hands of a few individuals.