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Anger at ‘gagged’ parish councils

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: June 23, 2014

Bill Crossley

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A VETERAN councillor has slammed plans that prevent councillors from speaking to journalists as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘a complete joke.’

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has written to 9,000 parish and town councils in England ordering councillors not speak to the media without obtaining prior permission from their council.

Bill Crossley, of Tutbury Parish Council, said the plans had been drawn up by a “crackpot who is abusing his position of power” to try to “suppress the media.”

He said: “I have been voted in and I will be expressing my personal views in public.

“It is ridiculous not being able to express our opinions – how will the public know what we are up to and what we are doing?”

The guidelines suggest councillors should obtain ‘prior written consent’ from their council clerk before agreeing to an interview with the media.

The gag also prevents councillors from expressing personal opinions other than ‘the views they hold in their official capacity.’

Several councils have already adopted the plans, which could see members who fail to comply with the rules disciplined.

Councillor Crossley, who has been in local politics for 47 years, has been warned before about his ‘damaging’ comments to the media.

He accused council chiefs of using the Chatham House Rule – which prevents the identity of a speaker at a council meeting being disclosed – too often.

He said: “It is a joke. In Tutbury we have a long-standing rule: if you cannot say something in public, then do not say it at all.”

Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, called for the ‘Stalinist’ guidelines to be scrapped in a letter sent to the NALC.

He said: “Freedom of speech is a vital part of local democracy. Councillors must be able to challenge waste and inefficiency, and should not have to get permission from state officials to speak to the press.

“I am concerned this Stalinist guidance will have a chilling effect on public life. I am making clear its contents are utterly opposed by the Government and it should be withdrawn immediately.

“We should be championing the independent free press, not trying to suppress it.”

Ken Browse, chairman of the NALC, rejected the criticism and said he wanted councils to have more dealings with the media.

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