Town councillors blast 'Stalinist' new guidance banning them from speaking to press with out permission

From left, Cllrs David Chadwick, Cllr Kevin McKeon and Cllr Stephen Laycock who have all criticised the new guidance

From left, Cllrs David Chadwick, Cllr Kevin McKeon and Cllr Stephen Laycock who have all criticised the new guidance

First published in Politics The Bolton News: Photograph of the Author by , reporter

NATIONAL guidance suggesting town and parish councillors should not talk directly to journalists has been criticised by members of Bolton’s three town councils.

The National Association of Local Councils has set out a media policy suggesting town and parish councillors should not speak to or send any written statements to journalists without prior permission.

The guidance, which has been issued to 8,500 councils, also recommends that all journalists must contact the council clerk and should not get in touch with councillors directly.

Councillors would also not be permitted to use the title ‘councillor’ if giving comments in a private capacity.

While the guidance is optional, parish councils are being asked to adopt it into their constitution and standard rules — meaning councillors could theoretically be disciplined for not adhering to it.

The policy has been described as “Stalinist” and “completely inappropriate” by the man in charge of local governments, communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Members of Bolton’s three town councils agree if incorporated into their constitutions, the rules could cause problems.

Leader of Westhoughton Town Council, Cllr David Chadwick said: “Speaking personally, it is not something I would support — I just think councillors need to communicate properly with local reporters, as I do with The Bolton News.

“It’s essential to communicate, even if sometimes the questions they ask are awkward.”

Horwich council leader, Cllr Kevin McKeon said that although it “goes against the grain”, he agreed with Eric Pickles on the matter.

He added: “I wouldn’t want my communications to go to be vetted by members of another party on the council, it would be terribly cumbersome, with lots of delays.

“If I wanted to say something to a reporter that other members didn’t agree with, would I then be censored?.

Deputy Mayor of Blackrod Town Council, Cllr Stephen Laycock believes the policy would “go against localism”.

He added: “It seems like it would stifle democracy and freedom of speech — if it is someone speaking on behalf of the council then yes that should be agreed, but if a journalist calls me for an individual opinion I should be able to express it.”

Cllr Ken Browse, chairman of the NALC, defended the guidance, stating it actually wanted parish councils to “have more dealings with the media”.

He added: “Councils are doing a brilliant job improving their area and we want the media to report that.

“Our 200 page book, Local Councils Explained, published last year helps councils navigate their way through endless red tape, bureaucracy and arcane laws created by successive governments.

"It does not bar councillors from speaking to the media but explains the legal framework that governs them.”

Comments (4)

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11:58am Tue 24 Jun 14

Brumas says...

I am not much bothered about Councillors speaking to the press, but I am concerned about prospective Councillors/ Councillors not speaking to the electorate has they should. Not once did any candidate from any political party knock on my door to canvas my opinion on any subject, local or national. Nor do I know of any resident in Horwich that was called upon prior to the recent election. No wonder there is general disalusionment with politics. Even the area forum meetings are a farce, with set rigid agendas, why not call them, Meet Your Councilors Meetings, where councillors should face open questions from the attendees. Then it really would be an open debate when put on the spot about any given subject, to see if their opinion/party line matched the views of the general public.
I am not much bothered about Councillors speaking to the press, but I am concerned about prospective Councillors/ Councillors not speaking to the electorate has they should. Not once did any candidate from any political party knock on my door to canvas my opinion on any subject, local or national. Nor do I know of any resident in Horwich that was called upon prior to the recent election. No wonder there is general disalusionment with politics. Even the area forum meetings are a farce, with set rigid agendas, why not call them, Meet Your Councilors Meetings, where councillors should face open questions from the attendees. Then it really would be an open debate when put on the spot about any given subject, to see if their opinion/party line matched the views of the general public. Brumas
  • Score: 3

12:18pm Tue 24 Jun 14

steveG says...

I don't know what the problem is,if other local papers are anything like the Bolton news then anything controversial won't go to print in any case.
I don't know what the problem is,if other local papers are anything like the Bolton news then anything controversial won't go to print in any case. steveG
  • Score: 3

3:14pm Wed 25 Jun 14

heaton watcher says...

Brumas wrote:
I am not much bothered about Councillors speaking to the press, but I am concerned about prospective Councillors/ Councillors not speaking to the electorate has they should. Not once did any candidate from any political party knock on my door to canvas my opinion on any subject, local or national. Nor do I know of any resident in Horwich that was called upon prior to the recent election. No wonder there is general disalusionment with politics. Even the area forum meetings are a farce, with set rigid agendas, why not call them, Meet Your Councilors Meetings, where councillors should face open questions from the attendees. Then it really would be an open debate when put on the spot about any given subject, to see if their opinion/party line matched the views of the general public.
Rubbish, I knocked on dozens of doors in Horwich myself and altogether several hundred were called on.
[quote][p][bold]Brumas[/bold] wrote: I am not much bothered about Councillors speaking to the press, but I am concerned about prospective Councillors/ Councillors not speaking to the electorate has they should. Not once did any candidate from any political party knock on my door to canvas my opinion on any subject, local or national. Nor do I know of any resident in Horwich that was called upon prior to the recent election. No wonder there is general disalusionment with politics. Even the area forum meetings are a farce, with set rigid agendas, why not call them, Meet Your Councilors Meetings, where councillors should face open questions from the attendees. Then it really would be an open debate when put on the spot about any given subject, to see if their opinion/party line matched the views of the general public.[/p][/quote]Rubbish, I knocked on dozens of doors in Horwich myself and altogether several hundred were called on. heaton watcher
  • Score: -1

3:22pm Wed 25 Jun 14

Brumas says...

Heaton watcher, you must have kept a very low profile, because I reiterate, No one knocked on my door, nore anyone else's door that I know of. For me to say that in this small Town/Village you and your Party did very little door knocking.
Heaton watcher, you must have kept a very low profile, because I reiterate, No one knocked on my door, nore anyone else's door that I know of. For me to say that in this small Town/Village you and your Party did very little door knocking. Brumas
  • Score: 0

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