Hartlepool Council accused of breaching purdah with deleted Facebook post about Tory mayor Ben Houchen

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
In a now-deleted Facebook post, Hartlepool Borough Council endorsed a new policy by the Tees Valley mayor, potentially in breach of pre-election ‘purdah’ rules

Concerns have been raised about a possible breach of election rules after a council executive seemed to endorse a new initiative from a local politician the day before the local elections.

In a now-deleted post on the Hartlepool Borough Council Facebook page, the council’s managing director Denise McGuckin was quoted praising Conservative mayor for Tees Valley Ben Houchen.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

What did the Facebook post say?

Under the caption “#NowisTheTime”, the post referred to an announcement of a new Mayoral Development Corporation being set up by Mr Houchen, which itself could be seen to have breached pre-election campaigning rules.

However, campaigners have raised specific concerns about comments made by the council’s managing director regarding the scheme.

Photos: Christopher Furlong/Ian Forsyth - Getty Images

In the now-deleted Facebook post, Denise McGuckin was quoted indirectly as saying the new scheme “highlights the faith Ben Houchen has in the significant developments which have already been achieved in Hartlepool”.

Ms McGuckin was then quoted directly as saying: “Don’t forget we’re already on a really exciting journey to transform our Borough and it is great the Mayor recognises this and wants to play his own part in this story.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Everywhere you look there are clear signs we’re delivering significant change within Hartlepool.”

What are the rules?

According to the Local Government Association’s guide on pre-election publicity for local government workers, “authorities should not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters”.

Specifically, the guidance states that local authorities must not “publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views on proposals in a way which identifies them with candidates or parties”.

It states that local authorities “must not make references to individual candidates or parties in press releases”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Former Labour MP Anna Turley shared the post on Twitter, highlighting that as the council’s managing director, Ms McGuckin will act as the returning officer in today’s elections.

The returning officer for an election is the person ultimately responsible for the conduct of the election, including the voting process.

Hartlepool Borough Council is yet to respond to a request for comment.

The Electoral Commission confirmed that it “does not have a role in regulating the pre-election period ahead of elections”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

‘Please don’t punish local Conservatives’

Also in Hartlepool, a Conservative candidate attempted to distance himself from the national party on his election campaign flyer.

The leaflet, which showed the Labour logo next to an EU flag in contrast with the Conservative logo next to a Union Jack, was sent out to voters in Hartlepool’s Burn Valley ward.

On the election flyer, Conservative candidate James Brewer urged, “please don’t punish local Conservatives for mistakes made in Westminster”.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.