Friday, 9 April 2010


09/04/2010 18:50:07 GMT Daylight Time
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Dear Mr Wild

Please find below correspondence that has taken place between Thanet District Council and myself today.

Can you please explain to me why the glossy KCC publication Around Kent (paid for with our council tax) featuring Conservative KCC Leader Paul Carter - even with his own opinion column - was delivered to my home by the Post Office today, after I received the email and briefing note reference the Purdah period from TDC?

For information I enclose the original email from Chief Executive Richard Samuel at TDC and the Purdah briefing paper.

Cllr Clive Hart (Thanet District Council)

----- Original Message -----
From: Pendry
Sent: Friday, April 09, 2010 4:20 PM
Subject: Re: PURDAH
Cllr. Hart,

I'm afraid I can't help with this one, as it wasn't our publication.

It might be worth raising the issue with KCC.

Sorry I can't be of any further help in this matter.



Cheryl PendryPress and Media ManagerThanet District Council title="" href=""> 09/04/2010 14:56 >>>
Can you explain to me why the glossy publication called Around Kent (paid for with my council tax) featuring Conservative KCC Leader Paul Carter on practically every page and even with his own column, was delivered to my home by the Post Office today, after I received the email and briefing note
reference Purdah?RegardsClive(Cllr Clive Hart)

MESSAGE SENT ON BEHALF OF RICHARD SAMUEL;With the calling of the General Election, the purdah period that leadsup to every election, is now underway. This means additionalrestrictions on the publicity put out by the council as a corporateentity. As this can be a complex area, we have compiled a briefing note,which is attached, which hopefully explains the full implications formembers and officers. It is also worth noting that the purdah period also has implicationsfor all radio and TV broadcasters, who are bound by exceptionally strictrules on who they are allowed to speak to in the run-up to an election.The council's press office has already received a number of calls frombroadcasters, requesting that only officers are put forward forinterviews until after the election, due to the restrictions imposed onthem. If you have any enquiries about this briefing note or the purdahperiod, please do not hesitate to contact me. The communications teamare also available to answer any questions you have and the council'sPress and Media Manager, Cheryl Pendry, can be contacted on 01843 577034or Richard
The legal position on local government publicity

There are a number of acts and codes governing publicity in the run-up to an election.

Section 142 of Local Government Act 1972 sets the foundation of all publicity as the: “provision of information relating to matters affecting local government”

This has been expanded upon since, with the most change, the 2009 Local Democracy Act putting a duty on councils to promote democracy and secure greater involvement of people in the decision-making process of local authorities.

The Local Government Act of 1986 sets out a Code of Recommended Practice, as regards publicity, saying that council should “have regard to the provisions of any such code in coming to any decision on publicity.”

Section 2 of this states that:

(1) A local authority shall not publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.
(2) In determining whether material falls within the prohibition regard shall be had to the content and style of the material, the time and other circumstances of publication and the likely effect on those to whom it is directed and, in particular, to the following matters -
(a) whether the material refers to a political party or to persons identified with a political party or promotes or opposes a point of view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable as the view of one political party and not of another
(b) where the material is part of a campaign, the effect which the campaign appears to be designed to achieve
(3) A local authority shall not give financial or other assistance to a person for the publication of material which the authority are prohibited by this section from publishing themselves.

Publicity in the run-up to an election

This period, from when an election is called, is often referred to as “purdah”. The simplest definition of this is that it is a period when politicians and civil servants refrain from taking decisions or making policy announcements which are significant and may be politically contentious.

During this period, local government is subject to more stringent rules on publicity, as set out in paragraph 41 of the Code on Publicity:

• The period between the notice of an election and the election itself should preclude proactive publicity in all its forms of candidates and other politicians involved directly in the election. Publicity should not deal with controversial issues or report views, proposals or recommendations in such a way that identifies them with individual members or groups of members. However, it is acceptable for the authority to respond in appropriate circumstances to events and legitimate service enquiries provided that their answers are factual and not party political. Members holding key political or civic positions should be able to comment in an emergency or where there is a genuine need for a member level response to an important event outside the authority’s control.
• Proactive events arranged in this period should not involve members likely to be standing for election.

The Code is not, in itself, law. It is a set of recommendations. However, in the Local Government Act 1986, it clearly states that councils should “have regard to the code” in any decisions they make on publicity. This has led to different approaches on publicity, but the approach adopted by the LG Comms group, a national body set up to raise the standard of communications in local government and endorsed by both the LGA and IDeA, states that:

(a) No publicity should be given to matters which are politically controversial
(b) The general presumption should be that no references will be made to individual politicians in press releases;
(c) Great caution should be exercised before undertaking any significant media exercise unless it can be demonstrated that this was included in the forward diary before the election was called;
(d) No photographs including candidates at the election should be issued
(e) Before any request for Council photographs and other materials are acceded to enquiries should be made as to the use to which they are to be put and an appropriate restriction on use imposed if the request is acceded to;

Although purdah itself does not have the force of law, there is an indication that some local authorities are concerned that decisions made during a pre-election period may be subject to an increased risk of challenge. Surrey County Council states:

"There is no statutory restriction on the council's decision-making during the election campaign. [...] may be that while the councils' decision-making can carry on other factors may well limit it...The profile of issues will be increased in this period and could have more prominence than at other times. This may distort decision-making and create a risk that the decision will be made on party political grounds rather than on its merits and, therefore, it is challengeable."

Recent challenges have been made on decisions made just prior to elections and, although the most recent case, R (on the application of Lewis) v Persimmon Homes Teesside Ltd (2008) was unsuccessful in the Court of Appeal, it shows that there is increased scrutiny of decisions made during a pre-election period.

Purdah FAQs

What is purdah?
Simply put, it is a period when politicians and civil servants refrain from taking decisions or making policy announcements which are significant and may be politically contentious.

How did it start?
The convention of purdah originates with the Treasury, where it has long been established that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should avoid discussing a budget prior to its official announcement in order to prevent any repercussions in financial markets.

It was then applied to pre-election period, with the aim of ensuring that the governing party in any organisation, be it a council or the national government, does not use its power for potentially unfair electoral advantage. It also helps to ensure that the ruling party does not commit its successor to significant decisions that they may not have made and helps to ensure the impartiality of the civil service.

When does purdah begin?
In a general election, it begins when the election is called and Parliament is dissolved.

For local elections, it begins on the day when notice of election is published. It is important to remember that many local newspapers will have lead-in times to their publication. Therefore, if a press release is issued just prior to the notice of election being published, by the time it appears in a newspaper, the purdah period will be in force. As a result of this, the purdah period is generally applied by the council a few days prior to the notice of election being published.

When does purdah finish?
It finishes when the polls close on polling day. The restrictions on media organisations are exceptionally intense on polling day itself, more so than in the run-up to the election and there is very little that they are allowed to say until the close of polls.

What does purdah mean to me as an elected member?
There is no restriction on your day to day work as an elected member. You are still free to comment on issues in your role as ward councillors. If you are approached directly by journalists, you can speak to them, but not through the council’s press office and you may not make any statements on behalf of the council.

It has been suggested that, where councillors maintain a blog in their role as a councillor, that it would be sensible to suspend these during the purdah period.

Photographs taken by council staff or professional photographers, paid for by the council, should not be used in election material. If they are, the cost of these photographs, either in payment to the photographer or staff time, must be recorded as election expenditure. Copyright consent must be sought from the council.

The restrictions are on corporate publicity, issued through the council’s communications team. During the purdah period, the council does not quote any members in press releases or in responses to enquiries received from journalists. The only exception to this would any emergency, as set out in the Code of Recommended Publicity.

Does this affect the operation of the council?
The business of the council does not stop during the purdah period, but it is publicised in a different way. Decisions taken during the purdah period may be more open to legal challenge, so it is important to ensure that there are reasons for the decisions which are made.

What happens after an election?
If the election is not a Thanet District Council election, things usually return to normal the day after polling.

When it is a Thanet District Council election, there may be a change of administration. Regardless of this, there is a period between the election taking place and the Annual Council meeting, which sees the formal election of the Leader and the establishment of Cabinet Member positions. During this time, the principle of quoting officers only remains in place, simply because the formal appointments do not take place until the Annual Council meeting.

Where can I find the rules of purdah written down?
Purdah is a classic convention of British governance, in that it is unwritten to a great extent. What is clear is that a practice which started in central government has grown to extend to local government.

Please consider the environment before printing this email.This email and any attachments are confidential and intended solely for the addressee and may also be privileged or exempt from disclosure under applicable law. If you are not the addressee, or have received this email in error, please notify the sender immediately, delete it from your system and do not copy, disclose or otherwise act upon any part of this email or its attachments. Any views expressed in this email are those of the individual sender, except where the sender specifies and with authority, states them to be the views of Thanet District Council. All communications sent to or from Thanet District council may be subject to recording and/or monitoring in accordance with relevant legislation.
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