Derby City Council

Cllrs Banwait and Bayliss test the “purdah” rules: Have they used public money to influence the outcome of the election?

Since 27th March 2018, Derby City Council (DCC) has been in the pre-election period , known as “purdah”. This means that the use of Council resources for political purposes is strictly prohibited by s.2 of the Local Government Act 1986. Breach of “purdah” rules can result in very serious consequences for the individual and the Council.

The definition of Council resources, by the Local Government Association, includes: telephones, email accounts, staff, paper, the use of any headed/DCC branded paperwork.

All electioneering activities and materials must be clearly paid for from personal or party funds up to a fixed maximum.

In identifying whether anything breaches the law, the Local Government Association (LGA) guidelines state:

“The first question to ask is: ‘could a reasonable person conclude that you were spending public money to influence the outcome of the election?’”

To clarify this the LGA then lists under the heading of “What you shouldn’t do”:

  • Produce publicity on matters which are politically controversial
  • Make references to individual politicians or groups in press releases
  • Arrange proactive media or events involving candidates
  • Issue photographs which include candidates
  • Supply council photographs or other materials to councillors or political group staff unless you have verified that they will not be used for campaigning purposes

A couple of potential breaches have been highlighted:

The Boulton Neighbourhood Board periodical, ( full document) issued last week, does not seem to pass the LGA’s 1st question:

  • It is a Derby City Council document – logos and branding ( not a party funded leaflet) – Council resources
  • It includes issues which are politically controversial
    • Assembly rooms – different political parties have alternative policies
    • Moorways – the subject of different political views
  • Proactive media, events, photographs involving candidates:
    • Ranjit Banwait is the Labour candidate for Boulton ward – he appears 5 times, including the “headline” photo.
    • The document should actually be about Boulton ward, so should also include a cross-section of activities covered by Officers.
    • The St Martin’s build project was a “media event” that Cllr Banwait attended as a photo-opportunity.
    • The pictures of the Moorways pool and from the Young Citizenship award are taken from news.derby.gov.uk – council photographs.

Cllr Paul Bayliss ( Deputy Mayor) has emailed a number of people on a standard circulation, using his Derby City Council email account to provide further insight into the Labour Party manifesto item on the diesel car scrappage scheme. This :

  • Uses Council resources and is branded as Derby City Council
  • Is politically controversial with the local Tory group’s position
  • Designed to influence the outcome of the election.

 

Comment

The “purdah” rules might seem petty and pedantic but they are treated extremely seriously by the Electoral Commission and the Derby City Council Monitoring Officer. These examples have been referred for examination.

Both Cllr Banwait, and Cllr Bayliss know the rules perfectly well. Less experienced Councillors keep a safe distance between themselves and any Council resources to avoid any risk of breaching “purdah”.

Would a “reasonable person” conclude that public money/resources ( the monetary value is not relevant) were being used to influence the outcome of the election? It is for the Monitoring Officer to decide what to do next.

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