The pre-election period begins Thursday 7 November 2019. From this date the Council is restricted in some of the activities it can do, or that councillors can be involved in.
Checklist of do's and don'ts
- Remember that all officers must be politically neutral and must not be put in a difficult position by candidates or councillors.
- Ensure that all publicity is non-political, this includes Council-organised events, leaflets, posters, press releases, sponsorship and photos.
- Ensure there is no proactive publicity that could be seen to support a political party or candidate.
- Ensure no candidate uses Council or education authority premises, including schools, in an election campaign by visiting them for campaigning purposes. This is especially relevant to visits for photo opportunities.
- Remember that 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 response to an important event outside of the Council control.
- Ensure Council business continues as normal unless there are very good reasons why this should not be the case.
Don't do this
- Launch new Council projects, initiatives or consultations during the pre-election period.
- Make references to individual politicians or groups in press releases or quote members in press releases or publicity.
- Display political posters or leaflets on Council premises (includes street lights, street railings, schools, school-keeper's houses, etc) or on vehicles, etc.
- Use Council resources to support political campaigning – this includes photographs, photocopying/reprographics.
- Continue hosting third party blogs or e-communications.
Guidance for Members and Officers
- The Council should consider the impact of any Council publicity during the pre-election period.
- The "pre-election period" referred to above is the period between the publication of the notice of election and the election itself, i.e. 7 November to 12 December 2019.
- There is no statutory restriction on the Council's decision-making, meetings, or political debate during the pre-election period. However, it is a period of heightened sensitivity when particular attention needs to be paid to the rules that apply at all times.
- The basic principle for any Council officer is to maintain political impartiality. These rules are set out in the Code of Conduct for Members, Officers' Code of Conduct and the Member Officer Protocol.
- Council officers must avoid compromising their impartiality when supporting councillors or advising candidates who are campaigning, in the pre-election period.
- There are specific rules that cover carrying on business, publicity and the use of premises by candidates during the pre-election period.
- Essential business must continue unless there are good reasons to the contrary.
- Extra caution is necessary in relation to publicity.
- Publicity produced by the Council is restricted at all times and, in the run up to an election, further rules apply.
- The Local Government Act 1986 makes it clear that a local authority should not publish any material which appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.
- The 1986 Act also requires local authorities to have regard to the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity ("the Code") in coming to any decision on publicity. The Code has been taken into account in preparing this guidance.
- During the period between the notice of an election and the election itself, local authorities should not publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views or proposals in such a way that identifies them with any individual members or groups of members.
- Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should not be published by local authorities during this period unless expressly authorised by, or required, by statute. It is permissible for local authorities to publish factual information which identifies the names, wards and parties of candidates at elections.
- It is acceptable for the Council to respond in appropriate circumstances to events and legitimate service enquiries provided that the answers are factual and not party political.
- Previously unplanned events arranged in this period should not involve those likely to be standing for election.
Consultations and decision-making
- If there are consultations already planned for the pre-election period, please discuss these with Legal Services.
- There is no statutory restriction on the Council's decision-making, meetings or political debate during the pre-election period including for example key decisions, budget decisions.
- However, Officers should consider carefully whether it is wise to bring forward any matters for decision during the pre-election period that could be politically contentious and which had not already been planned to be taken in this period before the election was announced.
- Officers should not permit any issues to be deliberately brought forward during the pre-election period where it may create a political advantage.
Officers who hold politically restricted posts or those officers who are involved with the poll or election count should not take part in a political campaign or canvass on behalf of a political party or a candidate.
General principles that should be followed
- There should be even-handedness in meeting information requests from candidates from all political parties.
- Such requests and responses should be handled in accordance with the principles laid down within the Council's Constitution.
- Particular care should be taken over officer support and the use of public resources including publicity for Council announcements that have (or potentially have) a bearing on issues relating to the election.
- Similar care should be taken over announcement of decisions made by officers, in some cases, it may be better to defer an announcement until after the election, but this needs to be balanced against any implication that deferral itself could influence political outcome.
- Special care must be taken in relation to any publicity campaign to avoid criticism that it is being undertaken for party political purposes. Generally, there should not be any new campaigns, including consultations, during the pre-election period that could be considered controversial.
Additional guidance is available on the Local Government Association Website.