Mark Whitehead 18 April 2019

Pre-election period (purdah) and local government

What is purdah and how can those in local government avoid breaking the rules?

What is 'purdah'? It's the period from the time a public election is called, until it has finished. Also known as the 'pre-election period' or 'period of sensitivity'. 

What does it cover? It puts restrictions on publicity, defined as 'any communication in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or a section of the public'.

What is its aim? To stop public money being used to promote a political party.

How can I quickly decide if something breaks the rules? The Local Government Association says you should ask: ‘Could a reasonable person conclude that you were spending public money to influence the outcome of the election?'

What can I continue doing? Normal council publicity, as long as it is factual information. You can correct misleading or factually wrong public statements, including in controversial areas, as long as you stick to the facts.

Who can make statements? Better to use relevant paid officials or someone in a politically neutral role rather than politicians.

What should we avoid?

• Producing publicity on matters which are politically controversial
• Naming individual politicians or groups in press releases
• Arranging media or events involving candidates
• Publishing photographs which include candidates
• Supplying council photographs or other materials to councillors or political groups
• Continuing to host third party blogs or other online publications which express political views
• Helping with visits by national politicians – these should be organised by political parties with no cost or resource implications for the council
• Make sure any campaigns already running couldn't be seen as political
• Unless it is a statutory duty, avoid launching any new consultations or publishing the results of a consultation exercise

If you are in any doubt, seek advice from your returning officer and/or monitoring officer, legal or communications colleagues.

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