Publicity and political neutrality during the pre-election period

We have been asked for advice about how schools and school staff maintain neutrality during the period of election. We hope the advice given here is useful.

PUBLICITY & POLITICAL NEUTRALITY DURING THE PRE- ELECTION PERIOD

Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986 makes it unlawful for the Council to publish, or assist in the publication of, publicity designed to affect support for a political party or to finance such publicity.  This applies to all forms of publicity including Council publicity promoting events organised or hosted by the Council or by other organisations.

Guidance is provided to the Council in the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity.

Officers and members must ensure that these requirements are strictly adhered to and that the neutrality of the Council is preserved at all times.

Particular care needs to be taken in the run up to an election and Local Authority officers, which includes school employees at community and voluntary controlled schools, planning to issue information or to arrange meetings and events due to take place during that time must ensure the advice set out below is followed.

Academies and voluntary aided school (and some foundation schools) although not caught by the Local Government Act restrictions but are exempt charities and are therefore governed by charity law. These types of schools should therefore apply the guiding principle of charity law in terms of campaigning, political activity and elections which is that charities should be, and be seen to be, independent from party politics

Restrictions on Party Political Publicity
Publicity is widely defined by the Act as ‘any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public.’

While it is very clear this definition will apply where publicity material/literature, promotional videos, etc are produced by or on behalf of the Council, officers and school staff also need to be aware that publicity falling within this definition may be produced in many other circumstances which may be less immediately obvious.

In determining whether material falls within the scope of the 1986 Act regard has to be had to the following factors:

·         The content and style of the material

·         The time and other circumstances of publication and

·         The likely effect on those to whom it is directed

·         Where the material is part of a Council campaign, the effect which the campaign appears to be designed to achieve

·         Whether the material refers to a political party or persons identified with a political party

·         Whether the material promotes or opposes a point of view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable as the view of one political party and not of another

 


Information

Published: 19/05/2017
Audience: Everyone, particularly headteachers and chairs of governors
Contact: Judith Kirk

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