Pre-election period 'Purdah' guidance
‘Purdah’ is a term that has commonly been used to describe the period leading up to an election – commencing on the date the Notice of Election is published and ending at the close of the poll on election day.
Although normal council business continues through the purdah period councils are required to pay attention to the legislation governing heightened sensitivity in the ‘purdah’ period before elections and referendums.
This prohibits a council from publishing any material at any time “which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party”.
However, during ‘purdah’ a number of other protocols and behaviours become more restricted than usual.
This guide is intended to provide an overview of the ‘purdah’ period.
Decision making and council meetings during the pre-election period
Council, cabinet, committee and other meetings will continue to meet as normal, but the following will be taken into account
- The council will avoid, wherever practicable, taking decisions that are politically sensitive or controversial
- The council will avoid taking decisions or undertaking scrutiny projects that are politically sensitive or controversial
- Council publicity on sensitive or controversial matters that must be decided during purdah must be designed so as not to impact on public opinion for or against a particular candidate or political party
- The council will handle requests for petitions carefully to ensure that they do not seek to influence public opinion for or against a particular candidate or political party
- Press releases or other publicity will be purely factual and will exclude quotes attributed to individual elected members
- The council will consider who to invite to events associated with promoting a decision: aim for all-party representation and preferably exclude any candidates standing in the election
- Ensure that ‘exempt’ or confidential information should not be provided for electioneering purposes
Council publicity and press statements
The definition of publicity includes: press releases, letters to the media, social media statements but not agendas and minutes of meetings.
The council will carry out normal publicity activity, for example, publicising the use of services or highlighting decisions made or about to be made as listed in the Forward Plan.
The council will publish factual information about individual councillors which is objective and explanatory, and is not party political nor open to misinterpretation.
The council will publish information that identifies the names, address, wards and parties of election candidates.
- Council publicity should avoid the proactive publicity of election candidates and other politicians involved directly with the elections
- Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should be limited to basic factual information such as: names, wards/divisions and parties of candidates standing
- The council should not issue publicity on sensitive or controversial issues or report views and proposals in a way that identifies them with individual councillors or groups of councillors
- The council must not use, nor allow others to use or manipulate, its publicity resources for party political purposes or to promote an elected councillor or any other election candidat
- The council should carefully monitor and, if necessary, suspend the hosting of content by third parties, or close hosted public forums, where it can be anticipated that the facility may be used to promote a particular candidate or party in the election campaign
The business of the council continues as usual and councillors and lead councillors will have their respective responsibilities to perform. However, the following restrictions apply:
- Councillors will not be quoted in council publicity/press releases
- Councillors should not use their role to confer on or secure for themselves or any other person or party an electoral advantage or disadvantage
- Councillors who are standing as, or publicly supporting, an election candidate should not use their role to promote their candidature or to support a candidate; councillors will need to consider, if supporting a particular candidate, whether they need to declare an interest under the Code of Conduct
- Councillors must not use council resources to initiate election campaigning activities
Councillor visits to council establishments/‘walkabouts’/street activities
Reasonable requests by elected councillors, including those who are also election candidates, to visit council establishments in the course of their council functions, can be met. However, specific rules do apply:
- Requests must not be met in a way that favours one or more candidates or political parties over others
- Councillors must not use these occasions to promote a particular political party or candidate involved in the election – please raise this if you feel this is happening
- Officers should not organise or take part in walkabouts or visits to establishments; such events should not be supported by the council’s communications staff
Use of Council facilities and resources
Council resources are not allowed to be used by candidates and political parties for election purposes. This includes but is not limited to: premises, staff time, printing and photocopying facilities, stationery, telephones/fax, transport, postal services, ICT equipment and web facilities.
Third parties such as voluntary and community organisations may continue to undertake their normal business where they would typically use council resources, for example: holding meetings in council premises; printing publications and other materials; advertising in council promoted publications and on websites; and taking part in engagement exercises hosted by the council.
Election candidates are able to hold a public meeting in council meeting rooms or school in the candidate’s local area free of charge once a candidate’s nomination form is accepted by the Returning Officer. (Special booking arrangements will be needed to operate).
- Council resources must not be used for the promotion of any of the election candidates or political parties, or for campaigning for or against any of the candidates or parties
- Additional care to be taken when responding to requests for ad hoc meetings of a public nature to ensure that they are required for the proper discharge of the council’s business and that they do not promote a particular candidate or party in the election campaign.
- Seek advice whether it is necessary to suspend the hosting of material produced by third parties, or to close public forums, to avoid breaching any legal restrictions.
Officers should carry out their normal duties including continuing to brief councillors on council business.
Briefings provided for election candidates must be even-handed such as providing common information to all candidates and sharing responses to ‘FAQs’ with all parties.
- Officers must avoid any action which is or may reasonably be perceived as being supportive of any party or candidate
- Officers at all levels should not engage in party political activity that compromises their neutrality and objectivity at work
- Officers who hold politically restricted posts, or who are likely to be involved or employed in connection with the elections have been reminded of their ongoing obligations not to take part in a political campaign or canvass on behalf of a political party or candidate.
Pre-election period 'Purdah' guidance
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