Political commentary is an issue in the run up to elections
Central Bedfordshire Council has suspended the online video replay of a council meeting due to the “political nature of some of the Member’s commentary”.
Councils have rules regarding publicity during the pre-election period. The Local Government Act 1986 says that councils should “not publish any material which, in whole, or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.”
The suspended webcast is the recording of Central Bedfordshire Council’s (CBC) Full Council meeting held on 18th April. Some members of the ruling Conservative Party used the open questions agenda item as an opportunity to promote their party.
Their commentary included the council leader claiming “it’s fairly obvious that you want to keep a Conservative Council” and there were also negative comments about another party’s manifesto.
As well as the pre-election rules that councils should follow, there is also advice for campaigning councillors. The Local Government Association (LGA) councillor guidance for the election period says: “Individual councillors can issue their own statements, write letters to the local newspaper(s) for publication, contact the media directly or say what they like in a personal capacity, but must not use council resources to do so.”
Asked if using the Council Chamber to promote party policies was a suitable use of council resources, a CBC spokesperson said:
“The Council meeting last week, and the use of the chamber for that purpose, were part of the business as usual operation of the Council. Therefore Member debate, commentary, questions and answers in a Council meeting are not regarded as use of council resources for political purposes.
“However, given the political nature of some of the Member’s commentary during the meeting, the webcast has been suspended until after the election on 2nd May 2019.”
Due to technical reasons, the complete video (and not just the political commentary) was removed from the CBC website on Wednesday (24th April).
There will not be any further CBC investigations into the broadcast of the video.