The Western Morning News has today covered in detail the situation in Colyton where police investigations are ongoing into aspects of its Village Plan.
When asked questions by the newspaper on this – via its CEO Mark Williams – EDDC hid behind rules covering “purdah” before local and general elections, when council officers must maintain political neutrality and avoid politically contentious subjects and instead went on the offensive against the EDDC Councillor (Cathy Gardner) who brought it into the open, querying where Councillor Cathy Gardner had got her information from, saying it had been known to only three senior officers.
He added that those three officers did not intend to comment until after local county elections on Thursday this week – and (possibly) even not until after the General Election, if anyone involved were to indicate that they wished to stand for Parliament. He said:
“…The council cannot comment on how Councillor Gardner became aware of the police investigation. The Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer were surprised she raised this at a public meeting”.
THIS IS WRONG.
First, because the act of drawing attention to Councillor Gardner breaks his own rule! He is not willing to discuss if any councillor is involved in criminal proceedings in Colyton but IS prepared to discuss Councillor Gardner’s action in drawing attention to it.
Secondly, purdah can be overridden if it is in the public interest as this surely is.
Thirdly, had she not raised this matter at a public meeting – where was she expected to raise it? In private? Far, far too much of THAT going in at EDDC!
Purdah is NOT law, it is advice. Or, as the Local Government Association puts it, Civil Servants ARE (REPEAT ARE) ALLOWED TO:
“Use a politician who is involved in an election when the council is required to respond in particular circumstances, such as in an emergency situation or where there is a genuine need for a member-level response to an important event beyond the council’s control. Normally this would be the civic mayor (as opposed to the elected mayor in those areas with elected mayors) or chairman (that is, someone holding a politically neutral role). If the issue is so serious, it is worth considering asking the council’s group leaders to agree to a response which would involve all of them.”
Owl contends that this IS such a circumstance.