Elections and the ‘pre-election period’

The ‘pre-election period’ is a term that is used to describe the period leading up to an
election – commencing on the date the Notice of Election is published and ending at the
close of the poll on election day.

Although normal Council business continues through the pre-election period, the Code of
Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity requires Councils to pay particular
regard to the legislation governing heightened sensitivity in the pre-election period before
elections and referendums.

The Local Government Act 1986 prohibits a local authority from publishing any material at
any time “which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a
political party”.

However, during the pre-election period a number of the normal protocols and behaviours around a
council’s activities in general, and around publicity and communications in particular,
become more restricted than usual.

Guide for local authorities

This guide summarises the key parameters from national guidance and is intended to
provide a practical and unambiguous approach to managing the pre-election period for officers and elected members across East Sussex.

The underlying purpose of this guidance is to ensure that local authorities take steps to
minimise the risk of influencing the outcome of a particular election of referendum either
intentionally or inadvertently.

This guidance applies to all authorities where an election or referendum affects some or all of the area’s residents. Where an election affects another authority, such as a
neighbouring authority, or a small part of the authority area, then an authority should have regard to the potential risks with a view to ensuring that the principles of this guidance are applied if necessary.

Council, Cabinet, Committee and other meetings may continue to meet as normal.

The Council, as a corporate body, may promote the taking of a decision or the launch of a service.

Specific advice:

  • Avoid, wherever practicable, taking decisions, bringing Council motions or
    undertaking scrutiny projects that are politically sensitive or controversial; instead plan to consider such matters outside purdah.
  • Council publicity on sensitive or controversial matters that must be decided during purdah must be designed so as not to impact on public opinion for or against a particular candidate or political party.
  • Handle requests for petitions or deputations carefully to ensure that they do not seek to influence public opinion for or against a particular candidate or political
    party.
  • Press releases or other publicity should be purely factual and should exclude
    quotes attributed to individual elected Members.
  • Consider whom to invite to events associated with promoting a decision: aim for all-party representation and preferably exclude any candidates standing in the election.
  • ‘Exempt’ or confidential information should not be provided for electioneering
    purposes.

The definition of publicity includes: press releases, social media statements but not
agendas and minutes of meetings.

Councils may still carry out normal publicity activity, for example, publicising the use of
services or highlighting decisions made or about to be made as listed in the Forward Plan.
Councils may publish factual information about individual Members (whether or not they
are election candidates) which is objective and explanatory, and is not party political nor
open to misinterpretation.

Councils may publish information that identifies the names, wards/divisions and parties of election candidates.

Councils may publish material to correct factual inaccuracies that appear in publicity
produced by third parties in connection with the election campaign.

Specific advice:

  • Council publicity should avoid the proactive publicity of election candidates and
    other politicians involved directly with the elections
  • Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should be limited to
    basic factual information such as: names, wards/divisions and parties of candidates
    standing.
  • Councils should not issue publicity on sensitive or controversial issues or report
    views and proposals in a way that identifies them with individual Members or groups
    of Members.
  • Councils must not use, nor allow others to use or manipulate, its publicity resources
    for party political purposes or to promote an elected Member or any other election
    candidate.
  • Councils should carefully monitor and, if necessary, suspend the hosting of content
    by third parties, or close hosted public forums, where it can be anticipated that the
    facility may be used to promote a particular candidate or party in the election
    campaign.

The business of the Council continues as usual and local Members and Lead Members
will have their respective responsibilities to perform.

Specific advice:

  • Members should not be quoted in council publicity/press releases
  • Members should not use their role to confer on or secure for themselves or any
    other person or party an electoral advantage or disadvantage.
  • Members who are standing as, or publicly supporting, an election candidate should
    not use their role to promote their candidature or to support a candidate;
  • Members will need to consider, if supporting a particular candidate, whether they need to declare an interest under the Code of Conduct.
  • Members must not use Council resources to initiate election campaigning activities.
  • Members may be denied access to ‘exempt’ or confidential information for
    electioneering purposes.

Reasonable requests by elected Members, including those who are also election
candidates, to visit Council establishments in the course of their Council functions, can be met.

Specific advice:

  • Such requests must not be met in a way that favours one or more candidates or
    political parties over others.
  • Councillors must not use these occasions to promote a particular political party or candidate involved in the election.
  • Officers should not organise or take part in walkabouts or visits to establishments; such events should not be supported by the Council’s Communications Team.

Council resources include but are not limited to: premises, staff time, printing and
photocopying facilities, stationery, telephones/fax, transport, postal services, ICT
equipment and web facilities.

Third parties such as voluntary and community organisations may continue to undertake
their normal business where they would typically use Council resources, for example: holding meetings in Council premises; printing publications and other materials; advertising in Council promoted publications and on websites; and taking part in engagement exercises hosted by the council.

Election candidates are able to hold a public meeting in Council meeting rooms or school in the candidate’s local area free of charge once a candidates’ nomination form is
accepted by the Returning Officer. (Special booking arrangements will be needed to
operate).

Specific advice:

  • Council resources must not be used for the promotion of any of the election
    candidates or political parties, or for campaigning for or against any of the
    candidates or parties (with the public meeting exception applying to election
    candidates).
  • Take additional care when responding to requests for ad hoc meetings of a public nature to ensure that they are required for the proper discharge of the Council’s
    business and that they do not promote a particular candidate or party in the election
    campaign.
  • Consider whether it is necessary to suspend the hosting of material produced by
    third parties, or to close public forums, to avoid breaching any legal restrictions.

Officers should carry out their normal duties including continuing to brief Members on
Council business.

Briefings provided for election candidates must be even-handed such as providing
common information to all candidates and sharing responses to ‘FAQs’ with all parties.
Specific advice:

  • Officers must avoid any action which is or may reasonably be perceived as being
    supportive of any party or candidate.
  • Officers at all levels should not engage in party political activity that compromises
    their neutrality and objectivity at work.
  • Officers who hold politically restricted posts, or who are likely to be involved or
    employed in connection with the elections, should be reminded of their ongoing obligations not to take part in a political campaign or canvass on behalf of a political party or candidate.

Councils should follow any statutory provision that authorises expenditure on the
publication of material designed to influence the public as to whether to support or oppose a question put at a referendum.

Councils may publish material relating to the subject matter of a referendum, for example to correct any factual inaccuracies that have appeared in publicity produced by third
parties.

Specific advice:

  • Any publicity produced by Councils must be even-handed, objective and must not
    support or oppose any of the options that are the subject of the vote.

This election and referendum pre-election period guidance (as above) has been jointly agreed by:

Eastbourne Borough Council
East Sussex County Council
Hastings Borough Council
Lewes District Council
Rother District Council
Wealden District Council