So; the "B" word nobody wants to talk about, but everyone seems to have to, is evolving into a Christmas present for local government workers and returning officers up and down the Country*£.  

With it looking ever more likely that Parliament will be dissolved this week for another General Election in early December I have dusted off my old training Manual*%$ to remind myself what we would have told those working in politics in the run up to an election.

Purdah

The word itself has origins in the Urdu language; meaning curtain or veil and led to the now predominantly Muslim custom of wearing a veil.  In a political context it refers to the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on communications activity are in place.  It is the means by which we prevent those already in power gaining an unfair advantage from being in power; allowing them to stay in power.

Local politics

As this is a national election not a local one, purdah restrictions on local councils are different to what they would have been prior to the local elections in May.  If that were the case we would need to look to the relatively fresh s.25 Localism Act 2011

(2) a decision-maker is not to be taken to have had, or to have appeared to have had, a closed mind when making the decision just because—

(a) the decision-maker had previously done anything that directly or indirectly indicated what view the decision-maker took, or would or might take, in relation to a matter, and

(b) the matter was relevant to the decision.

This enactment gave a presumption in favour of the politician in the difficult area of apparent bias but still didn't prevent the local politician erring and appearing biased in the planning world. Of course this could still prove relevant in the actions of local politicians in a national election.

Local councils are not "up for grabs" but they do remain a part of the political system and those same local politicians will likely be knocking on doors as part of the party political system they remain a part of.

LPA business during purdah

The Cabinet Office has not yet published its latest guidance on purdah.  However the 2017 guidance is useful.  Councils will have to 

  • in general - not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters, 
  • ensure that publicity relating to policies and proposals from central government is balanced and factually accurate and 
  • comply with laws which prohibit political advertising on television or radio.

Under the guidance councils are not to publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views on proposals in a way which identifies them with individual councillors or groups of councillors.  It would definitely not be a good time to promote a particular long term plan or anything even slightly party political along side that system.

Councils should consider suspending the hosting of third-party material or closing public forums if these are likely to breach the codes of practice.

But!

Council’s can still determine planning applications even if they are controversial.  Let's remember in drawing this aspect to the fore LPA's should have planning committee's which are fairly constituted and otherwise non party political.  Those decisions should be made in accordance with the Development Plan.

As such - LPA dependent - purdah will be either be the best or the worst time to have your planning application heard.  Done properly it may be the fairest hearing possible as Councillors run scared of the Monitoring Officer and being seen to have made a decision to promote their political party.  

It is absolutely not a reason for an LPA to move or cancel their planning committee but if offered to an applicant as a means to defer, it may be worth consideration.

News review to follow?

Having said that - I wonder how much good/bad news has been parcelled up and released pre Purdah?  Maybe one for another blog?

*£ - well it was always for me - a lot of Councils still operate a system where the day out of the office does not come out of your leave as it is a public service/duty but those manning the poll stations/counting the votes get paid in addition to their normal wage for doing so.

*%$.   I used to work in house at a set of local planning authorities.

... the quote below has been taken completely out of context but feels somewhat apt to in relation to the current party politics keeping us all interested at the moment.