Councillor Says He Won’t Be Stopped From Expressing Views

Cllr Gordon Bilsborough

Cllr Gordon Bilsborough

A St Mary’s councillor is alleging that elected members have been advised not to comment on Council matters in the media.

Gordon Bilsborough says he’s ignoring it and goes further, claiming that the Council’s current communications strategy is affecting its relationship with the community.

Gordon says he and other councillors were advised in an informal meeting last week not to add views to the debate on Council issues without receiving permission from senior officers.

He says it’s “unthinkable” that elected representatives should need this, adding that it smacked of “pre-war Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.”

“Who are they to tell us what to say?” asks Gordon. “We’re not mouthpieces for the Council.”

Gordon’s comments come only days after Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles described similar guidelines, issued by the National Association of Local Councils, as “Stalinist.”

NALC has told their members that they should impose controls on the ability of councillors to talk to journalists. These include seeking written prior consent from officers and not expressing personal views.

It’s unclear whether our Council is acting on these recommendations.

Gordon wouldn’t say who had given him the advice. He says it is wrong to point the finger at individuals and responsibility “needs to be borne by senior officers and members as a body.”

He believes there would be less ‘sniping’ at the Council if taxpayers knew more about what was going on and describes the Authority’s recent communications strategy as “awful.”

Other councillors have raised the matter recently, most notably during a debate on the lack of knowledge by islands’ businesses about new waste charges.

It’s important that elected members don’t reveal any confidential information, says Gordon, but he feels the inability to discuss issues that are already in the public domain, such as the Council’s ongoing restructuring, is “a form of censorship.”

Talking to the media stops rumours, he says, and avoids the impression that we’re trying to hide something.

In a statement to Radio Scilly, Council Chairman Amanda Martin said she was not aware that the Council had advised its members not to speak to the media without authorisation.

And she says the communication policy is “alright as far as it goes” but added that in any organisation, “there is room for review and improvement.”

Gordon says he won’t let the issue rest and will raise it during informal meetings for members in the coming weeks.

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