Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Are NCC's Adverts For the Mayoral Referendum Above Board?

NCC has erected billboard ads for the upcoming referendum about whether we're going to have an elected Mayor in the City. This is all right and proper in itself, you want to do everything you can to encourage people to vote.

But let's have a look at it (TVM @mikebettison for use of the pic)

Hmm, see how the poster makes it very clear that NCC opposes having a Mayor and clearly states it would not be 'value for money'.

Thing is there is a Code of Practice for local government publicity and I'm not at all sure that this complies.

Para 30 of the code says the following -

"30. Advertisements are not normally likely to be appropriate as a means of explaining policy or commenting on proposals, since an advertisement by its nature summarises information, compresses issues and arguments, and markets views and opinions."

This implies to me that, if NCC wants to tell us about the issues that affect the decision to have a mayor or not a billboard ad isn't the best way to do it. This is probably a minor issue though.

More important is the (amended) version of para 43 dealing with referendums which says -

"The publicity should not be capable of being perceived as seeking to influence public support for, or opposition to, the referendum proposals and should not associate support for, or opposition to, the proposals with any individual or group."

I think the ad clearly breaches that requirement. I should add the proviso that the provision mentioned above refers to the old referendum rules for Mayors etc not the new ones introduced by the Localism Act, This is presumably because the code was written before the Localism Act was passed. I'm not sure that would really make a difference though and, even if it did technically, I think it would still be breaching the spirit of the code.

As you may know, NCC has form on dodgy publicity and the Audit Commission has form on not really doing a lot about it. But if there are people who feel very strongly about having a Mayor they may well be able to use this advertising to challenge the validity of a 'no' vote.

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