Complaint over Jones’ media habits

Cllr Michael Jones, Conservative leader of Cheshire East Council, has allegedly broken the government's publicity code by using the council's resources to publish political statements, according to an official complaint made by a UKIP councillor.

Last week, the council's media relations office sent an email to around 80 journalists containing a letter from Jones about housing policy and green spaces in which he attacked UKIP and Labour and promoted the views of his own party.

In April, Jones was forced to issue an apology to party group leaders after using council resources to publish a political Easter message.

Jones said at the time: "On 17 April 2014 as Leader of the Council I issued an Easter Message which by mistake contained political statements and which I fully acknowledge should not have been issued by or linked to the Council. The words in question were only ever intended to be issued by me personally and I apologise to the public, the Council and all elected members for any harm that this error may have caused. I accept full responsibility for the issue of this statement and as Leader I have taken steps to tighten up the processes to ensure that a similar error could not be repeated in the future."

This week, Cllr Brian Silvester, Willaston & Rope UKIP member, called for action to be taken against Jones for using council officers for party political reasons. Silvester has filed an official complaint with the monitoring officer, responsible for applying the publicity code at the local authority.

Silvester said: "Cllr Jones is a serial offender when it comes to using Council Officers to issue party political press releases on his behalf. Cllr Jones is blatantly and repeatedly asking Council Officers to issue political press releases where he openly attacks UKIP and Labour, when he knows that it is wrong to do so."

Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities & local government, issued guidance in April about free speech and party political statements by councillors. Pickles has the power to take legal action including court order requiring compliance if councils do not follow legal direction of the publicity code, under the Local Audit & Accountability Act 2014.

Pickles wrote: "We have changed the law to protect the free speech of councillors. If councillors and political parties want to campaign and put out political literature, they are very welcome to do so, and it's an important part of our democratic process. But they should be using their own money, rather than taxpayers."

On objectivity, the publicity code states that: "Local authorities should ensure that publicity relating to policies and proposals from central government is balanced and factually accurate. Such publicity may set out the local authority's views and reasons for holding those views, but should avoid anything likely to be perceived by readers as constituting a political statement, or being a commentary on contentious areas of public policy."

On even-handedness the code states that: "Where local authority publicity addresses matters of political controversy it should seek to present the different positions in relation to the issue in question in a fair manner."

A spokesman for Cheshire East Council said they were looking into the matter.

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This guy really doesn’t help himself does he?

By David Spencer

The passage quoting central government guidance on criticising their policy makes me laugh. Seems it’s fine for Eric Pickles and other ministers to use the media to bully and criticise local authorities and intervene in local decision making without recourse to reason or balance but they do not like it when the tables are turned. Yet another reason for meaningful devolution to English regions to rid us of Westminter’s suffocating control-freakery. That said Cllr Jones does himself or local politicians no favours with the way he expresses himself, even if his ideas around housing and the actions of rapacious developers are fundamentally sound.

By Eric Piffle