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Can a parish council's Standing Orders prohibit its councillors from speaking to the press about any council matter?

0 votes

Our parish council's Standing Orders include the following: 


Requests from the press or other media for an oral or written comment or statement from the council, councillors or staff shall be handled only by the Proper Officer.'  

The Clerk and some councillors are interpreting this as meaning that no councillor can speak to the press about any council matter in any circumstances and that all requests from the press to councillors for comments on any council matter must be referred to the Clerk.  

This seems to me to be tantamount to a 'gagging order' on councillors preventing them from making any comment to the press about any council matter.

Whilst it would be inappropriate for councillors to speak to the press 'on behalf of the council' - which only the Clerk and Chairman can do - it seems to me that any councillor is entitled to state their own views to the press on any council matter provided they make it clear they are expressing their own views and not those of the council. 

It ,therefore, also seems to me that 'councillors' need to be removed from standing order 22 and a further sentance added saying; 'Councillors may speak to the press on any council matter provided they make it clear that the views they express are their own and not those of the Council.'   

I would welcome any further advice as I think that I need to raise this issue with the Borough Council Monitoring Officer.  

asked by (380 points)

4 Answers

0 votes
I completely agree with you as this part of Standing Orders is being used to suppress free speech

To make matters worse I know of a Parish Council where the Clerk expresses their own opinions in correspondence sometimes misleading residents and the Councillors  because they aren’t allowed to see correspondence are blissfully unaware

If you send me a message I’ll send you some links
answered by (4.9k points)
0 votes
Raise it as an item that needs to be amended since it is patently inappropriate, unenforceable, ridiculous.and will be ignored / discarded anyway since there is absolutely nothing the PC can do to ‘enforce’  it
One of 3 things will likely happen:

1 - everyone will agree and there will be a trouble free amendment .

2 - Cllr’s will have a discussion and come to the obvious conclusion (or not.)

3 - the clerk will try and justify the position, probably quoting some mysterious NALC reference that nobody else can access
If 1 - happy days
If 2 - either see 1 or just ignore the rule
If 3 - clerk needs re-training / performance appraisal / disciplinary action..
answered by (6.3k points)
Mysterious NALC, SLCC guidance or a third party (the insurer / HR advisor / HSE advisor).  If you argue that either NALC or SLCC guidance is incorrect then its a conundrum as the clerk may well not know the guidance is flawed, and if the council do not either, its the blind leading the blind.
+1 vote
You need a press / media policy that is agreed by all councillors that outlines how and what can be said and with what caveats (i.e. speaking on a personal view and not that of the council).  But standing orders are reviewed on an annual basis and so if the council has approved them in full council with a resolution, those are the rules for your council, whether you like them or not.  I am not sure if the Monitoring Officer will get involved as it would not probably be considered as a code of conduct matter but an internal organisational one.

With all that said, how can a council prevent a councillor speaking to the press - they can hardly be sacked...?
answered by (16.8k points)
0 votes
I think that the rule is reasonable as it refers to a 'statement from the council', not the opinion of a councillor, officer or any member of the staff.  If the media ask for a statement from the council (oral or written) then it should go through the clerk and be handled in the manner laid out in council procedures.

However, if the press ask for an oral statement or written one from a councillor (who cannot be the council, unless delegated to represent it by council procedures along with all the rigmarole required) then that is not covered by this rule.  The councillor would have to make sure the recipient knew they did not represent the council.  I would expect the staff would be in the same position, and if the clerk were asked to give as statement they could not do so, as it would compromise the proper officer position.

I think a lot of the rules are written without much thought as to how they work in practice (as the rule above talks about staff, and the proper officer is a member of staff), other than to gag councillors, as noted in other answers, but there are sufficient holes in them to allow councillors to speak to whoever they wish to, as long as they make sure people know its not a 'council' reply.   
That other councillors interpret the requirement in different ways supports the view that it was written without much thought as to how it is operated in practice.  Recently a council passed a motion for all councillors to read and sign that they understood certain documents.  As a then councillor I asked that this be done as a council, as each councillor could read the documents and come to different conclusion as to how the various requirements processes worked.  A lot of councillors were not happy as that takes time!
answered by (680 points)

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