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Surrey County Council not following national Press Code, say Lib Dems

June 12, 2012 3:27 PM
Originally published by Surrey County Council Lib Dems
County Cllr Hazel Watson

Cllr Hazel Watson

Surrey County Council is not following the national "Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity" when issuing press releases about local issues in county councillors divisions.

The issue came to light earlier this month when the County Council said that a quote from local County Councillor Hazel Watson (Dorking Hills) could not be included in any press release regarding a change to a speed limit on the A24 between the Denbies roundabout in Dorking and Swanworth Lane, Mickleham.

In the end no press release was issued regarding the speed limit change.

Cllr Hazel Watson tabled a question on the issue to the meeting of the Full Council of Surrey County Council today.

Cllr Watson said: "The answers given are just not good enough. Surrey County Council has a large and expensive press operation and it should not just be being used to send out spin on behalf of the Conservative controlled Cabinet. It should also issue press releases on local matters of importance to residents, and where appropriate give the views and contact details of the relevant local County Councillor in a non party political way. I shall continue to press for the County Council to follow the national "Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity".

NOTES:

1) Text of Cllr Watson's Question:

MRS HAZEL WATSON (DORKING HILLS) TO ASK THE LEADER OF THE COUNCIL:

The "Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity", issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 31 March 2011 and laid before both Houses of Parliament states:

"it is acceptable for local authorities to publicise the work done by individual members of the authority, and to present the views of those individuals on local issues. This might be appropriate, for example, when one councillor has been the "face" of a particular campaign."

See http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/pdf/1878324.pdf

The County Council's Member Officer Protocol states "Press releases will include the contact details of the local Member where the release relates to a specific local area, in order to allow the local Member to be contacted directly by the press for comment regarding the issue."

Will the Leader agree with me that:

(1) It is the role of Press Office to promote the whole work of the Council, including where appropriate and in a non party political way the work of Members as representatives of their divisions?

(2) That, when appropriate, local Members should be quoted within the guidelines laid before Parliament, on issues that are specific to their divisions?

(3) That local Members should always have their contact details included on press releases that are specific to their division even when it is not appropriate to quote the Member in the press release?

2) Reply from the Leader of the Council:

The Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group will be aware that the media relations team does promote the work of the Council in a non party political way. On occasions they will quote a Member where they are leading a particular piece of work and I am confident that they are acting within the Code of Recommended Practice.

The media relations team has sought to include contacts for local Members on relevant press releases but to avoid any confusion about when this should happen, they are now including a link to all Members' contacts on all press releases. The link is also on the Council's digital press office.