Jason Perry, Croydon’s £81,000 per year part-time Mayor, is subject to complaints that he broke the supposedly strict rules on pre-election purdah, which prohibit the use of council funds and resources to help influence the outcome of elections.
There was a ward by-election held in Selsdon Vale and Forestdale yesterday, which was won by the Conservative candidate, Fatima Zaman.
Tory Mayor Perry has been accused by political rivals of offering “a blatant election bribe”, with an announcement of funding for Selsdon released during the pre-election period.
Purdah is the time from when an election is called through until the polls close, and is regarded in local and national government circles as a “period of sensitivity”. It puts restrictions on council publicity, defined by the Local Government Association as “any communication in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or a section of the public”.
The LGA says that the aim of pre-election purdah is “To stop public money being used to promote a political party.”
In its advice to local government bodies, the LGA says: “How can I quickly decide if something breaks the rules? You should ask: ‘Could a reasonable person conclude that you were spending public money to influence the outcome of the election?'”
And they advise that during purdah, it is “Better to use relevant paid officials or someone in a politically neutral role rather than politicians” for making any announcements.
The LGA says that during purdah, councils should 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
All 70 councillors, and the Mayor, were issued with a purdah warning during last month’s meeting of full council in the Town Hall Chamber, when they were told they were not allowed to make any party political statements.
But when it has come to issuing publicity from the council press office, it has been business as usual for part-time Perry.
Between the announcement of the Selsdon Vale and Forestdale by-election on September 29 and yesterday, the council issued 21 press releases, all available on its Council Tax-funded website.
Mayor Perry is quoted in 18 of them. His photograph appears in 17 of them.
That, of itself, is a break with previous practice, when the council appeared to follow the LGA advice and avoided “naming individual politicians or groups in press releases” during purdah.
And throughout the period, Perry, the part-time Mayor and full-time Tory, continued to tweet from @JasonFroCroydon.
While it is a personal account, it might easily be mistaken by the public, and voters, to be an official council social media platform. It even uses the same “Listening to Croydon” slogan that appears alongside Perry’s mugshot on many of his council-issued press statements. Which is undoubtedly something which Perry and his minders set out to do in the first place.
But what has caused greatest offence, and prompted the “election bribe” claim, were a couple of council announcements made barely a week before the by-election polling day. Opposition politicians maintain that these announcements should have been postponed until after the election in order to comply with purdah.
One, issued on October 26, revealed that £2.5million from the government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund was coming Croydon’s way to “transform its district centres, restore local pride, and help businesses thrive”.
The press statement highlighted that, helpfully for Perry and Croydpn’s Tories, Selsdon would be one of the areas to benefit from £500,000 for “high street and public space improvements, making local areas more attractive for residents and businesses”.
The announcement also contained a series of other funding arrangements for small and medium-sized businesses, arts and tech training. The press release also quoted Perry taking what many would interpret as the credit, politically, for the funding.
“This is the right time to be ambitious and harness all that our borough has to offer,” Perry said, ignoring purdah rules which probably would have said it was not quite the “right time” at all.
And with the Tories under fire nationally and locally for the Conservative government’s proposals to remove planning restrictions in Green Belt areas for their “Investment Zones”, the council broke purdah rules once again on October 28 to announce that it was spending £300,000 from the Forestry Commission to plant almost 500 trees across the borough, “helping make the borough healthier and more vibrant”.
Once again, Tory Mayor Perry was pictured and quoted with the story, in a blatant effort to claim the political credit for the Forestry Commission’s generosity.
“This is an abuse of council resources for political advantage by Perry and the Tories,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon today.
“There was no good reason why any of these announcements could not have been held back until after the November 3 by-election. There was no good reason why Perry or Conservative councillors had to be pictured or quoted in any of the press releases.
“And the £500,000 grant to Selsdon announced eight days before a by-election – that looks like a blatant election bribe.”
- Inside Croydon has been delivering local community news since 2010. To support independent local journalism in Croydon, please sign up today as a supporter. Click here for more details
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at email@example.com
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- By having a comment section, we provide all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content. Details of how this works can be read by clicking here
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- Inside Croydon: 3.3million page views in 2021. Seen by 1.6million unique visitors in that 12-month period