Town councillors may face ‘outrageous’ gagging order

Oxford Mail: Cllr Duncan Enright with the clause from the document proposing to ban Witney town councillors from talking to the press Cllr Duncan Enright with the clause from the document proposing to ban Witney town councillors from talking to the press

COUNCILLORS who were democractically elected in Witney could be banned from speaking to the press without getting written permission first under the town council’s new media policy.

Witney Town Council, criticised over banning the press from parts of many of its meetings, has drafted a new media and publicity policy that says: “Councillors and staff, other than the clerk or communications officer, cannot in their official capacity provide verbal or written statements to the media, or write articles for publication, using the media, about the council’s business decisions and actions without the council’s prior written consent.

“Councillors and staff cannot communicate their personal views about the council’s business decisions and actions, other than the view they hold in their official capacity.”

The clause drew a warning from Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron. He said: “Witney Town Council, as is the case with all public bodies, needs to ensure that its business is conducted in an open and transparent way as possible.”

The policy came as councillor Ben Woodruff said he was “embarrassed” by the council’s relationship with the media, while another, Duncan Enright, said stopping democratically elected representatives from speaking without permission was “outrageous”.

Mr Enright, who opposed the public’s exclusion from a meeting last month discussing the sale of Langdale Hall and repairs to the Corn Exchange, said: “The councillors are there to represent. It’s outrageous.”

Town clerk Sharon Groth said: “From time to time the council reviews its policies and governance arrangements to ensure they remain up to date and relevant.

“The town council will be reviewing its existing media policy at a future meeting.

“So far the town clerk has provided members with the National Association of Local Council’s model policy for consideration and amendment. At this stage the town clerk would stress that this model has not been discussed by council so remains in draft form.”

However, NALC spokeswoman Kate Groves said the adopted draft was from an example media policy in its book Local Councils Explained – not a template.

She said: “The draft is therefore the council’s own work.”

Witney Mayor Peter Dorward said: “They are there to protect the council officers as much as anything else so someone who is a loose cannon can’t effect the whole of the council.”

Banbury and Abingdon town councils said they did not have such restrictions on councillors.

 

Your representatives' responses

Jeanette Baker: “I haven’t read it yet, but as far as I know it’s only a paper that’s been sent round for councillors to look at compared to the National Association of Local Councils guidelines. There’s been no suggestion at this stage that we’re going to accept and adopt it.”

Oxford Mail:

Brenda Churchill, pictured: “I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but as far as I understand it’s similar to the district or county council. At the moment it’s only a draft so if there’s something in there that we don’t like we can alter it.”

Nick Buckle: “I would have to read it in more detail before I make further comment. But I do believe the council is a public service at the end of the day and information should be made public eventually. If I objected to a council decision I have it minuted.”

Duncan Enright: “It’s too restrictive and untrusting. It just seems fundamentally wrong to me that the clerk could have such huge control so I’m going to challenge that.”

Ben Woodruff: “I would be surprised if it was left as it is. We’re all old enough to make our own decisions.”

Alam Beames: “I don’t agree with tying our hands together and I won’t be agreeing that. I don’t see why we should have to go through the town clerk to discuss items and I believe we need to be able to speak to the media.”

Roger Curry: “I haven’t had the chance to look through it properly yet, but I will express my views on it at the meeting. The town clerk’s job is to produce papers to discuss, but it’s up to us councillors to decide policy.”

Chris Holliday: “It would be unfair for me to comment without reading through the policy properly. I’ve only been a councillor for a year so I’m not even sure what the old policy was and I would have to look through that as well.”

Toby Morris: “I haven’t looked through it yet, but I guess I would always go along with the will of the council, whether I agree with it or not. Obviously, if I was against it I would challenge it in the debate.”

Steve Way: Refused to comment.

David Harvey: and Chrissie Curry said they had not had a chance to look at it because of family issues.

Harry Eaglestone: had not received a copy as he is currently taking leave due to personal matters.

Peter Dorward: no answer
Jim King: no answer
David Snow: no answer
Chris Woodward: no answer

Comments (6)

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7:07am Wed 16 Apr 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

It would appear that the policy was prepared by someone with a very poor education...

Cannot
Must not
Should not
Will not

All have a very clear meanings and must never be interchanged without careful consideration.

Indeed, my personal view is that when advised that something "cannot" be done, it is an open invitation to prove that it *can* be done.
It would appear that the policy was prepared by someone with a very poor education... Cannot Must not Should not Will not All have a very clear meanings and must never be interchanged without careful consideration. Indeed, my personal view is that when advised that something "cannot" be done, it is an open invitation to prove that it *can* be done. Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 10

10:06am Wed 16 Apr 14

Councillor mark cherry says...

This is absolutely scandalous . This country went through 2 world wars to have freedom of speech . this policy more like Putin Russia .
Tell em to get stuffed in my personal opinion .
This is absolutely scandalous . This country went through 2 world wars to have freedom of speech . this policy more like Putin Russia . Tell em to get stuffed in my personal opinion . Councillor mark cherry
  • Score: 9

12:15pm Wed 16 Apr 14

Trevor Craig says...

While its good the mail is pursing this, why didn't it get as riled up when Cameron and Keith stitched up the decision over the library service cuts: http://www.oxfordmai
l.co.uk/news/9643511
.LEADERSHIP__County_
candidates_step_forw
ard/?ref=rc

According to Cllr Pete Handley: "“I want all policy decisions to pass through the group before being made public, not as with the library fiasco where one person was making the decisions, talking to the press and then expecting the group to agree with what had been announced."
“This has happened several times over recent years.”"

So perhaps the mail can put OCC under the same sort of scrutiny to ensure the democratic process has been followed that they've put Witney Town Council under.
While its good the mail is pursing this, why didn't it get as riled up when Cameron and Keith stitched up the decision over the library service cuts: http://www.oxfordmai l.co.uk/news/9643511 .LEADERSHIP__County_ candidates_step_forw ard/?ref=rc According to Cllr Pete Handley: "“I want all policy decisions to pass through the group before being made public, not as with the library fiasco where one person was making the decisions, talking to the press and then expecting the group to agree with what had been announced." “This has happened several times over recent years.”" So perhaps the mail can put OCC under the same sort of scrutiny to ensure the democratic process has been followed that they've put Witney Town Council under. Trevor Craig
  • Score: 3

5:56pm Wed 16 Apr 14

OutToPasture says...

Will this be extended to that idiot Liam Walker? Wishfully thinking it will.
Will this be extended to that idiot Liam Walker? Wishfully thinking it will. OutToPasture
  • Score: 3

2:24pm Thu 17 Apr 14

RosaAshby says...

We live in a democratic country OR do we? It is absolutely ridiculous to try to gag councillors who are representing and speaking on behalf of the public. Do we live in England OR Russia?
We live in a democratic country OR do we? It is absolutely ridiculous to try to gag councillors who are representing and speaking on behalf of the public. Do we live in England OR Russia? RosaAshby
  • Score: 1

10:01pm Thu 17 Apr 14

the wizard says...

Just what have this aloof variety of Tory totalitarianism got that they want to hide. Cllr Duncan Enright is right in having concerns that elected reps cannot report to their public what is being discussed and debated. IT IS OUR RIGHT TO KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING, and what is being said and done and by whom. If they want to conduct themselves in secrecy then they can pack their bags and go work for Putin, right now he has some upcoming vacancies, some of which would suit this lot down to the ground.
Just what have this aloof variety of Tory totalitarianism got that they want to hide. Cllr Duncan Enright is right in having concerns that elected reps cannot report to their public what is being discussed and debated. IT IS OUR RIGHT TO KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING, and what is being said and done and by whom. If they want to conduct themselves in secrecy then they can pack their bags and go work for Putin, right now he has some upcoming vacancies, some of which would suit this lot down to the ground. the wizard
  • Score: 1

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