What you need to know about conducting council business, publicity and events during the pre-election period for the polls being held in May 2023.
The pre-election period (commonly known as Purdah) describes the period of time beginning with the publication of a notice of election. During this time specific restrictions on communications activity are in place.
In 2023 notices of election for all polls taking place on 4 May will be published on 22 March 2023.
Pre-election period for these local elections therefore starts from Wednesday 22 March 2023.
Normal council business
The presumption is that normal council business will continue over the election period.
The exception is where a particular initiative, proposal, consultation or publication in the period could reasonably be regarded as giving a candidate or their supporters/political party an advantage in the election (i.e. it is not politically neutral). If that is the case then the initiative should be deferred until after the election. However, most routine business should continue unaffected. If in doubt, seek advice.
Where it is possible, with suitable advance planning, to schedule any formal decisions on matters of controversy for outside the pre-election period, officers should definitely do so, with business as usual decisions that are likely to prove controversial only brought forward to meetings within the pre-election period where genuinely necessary.
Publicity and events
There will be special sensitivity for publicity and events during this period.
All council funded publicity activities must be, and must be seen to be, politically neutral. Anything that could reasonably be regarded as giving a political candidate or their supporters/party an advantage in the election is not politically neutral. This applies no matter what the justifications for the publicity are.
"Publicity" refers to any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public and includes news releases, newsletters, consultation exercises and unsolicited letters to constituents. If in doubt, seek advice.
The following conventions should be applied during the purdah period.
1. Council publicity should not deal with controversial issues or report views, proposals or recommendations in such a way that identifies them with individual politicians or their party groups.
However, it is acceptable for councillors and employees to respond in appropriate circumstances to events and legitimate service enquiries provided that their answers are factual and not party political.
Some councillors hold key political or civic positions and as such can comment where there is genuine need for such a response to an important event outside the council's control. If in doubt, seek advice.
2. Proactive events arranged in this period should not involve any person standing for election. If in doubt, seek advice.
3. There is a general presumption against undertaking new campaigns or initiatives during the purdah period in any area that might be considered controversial in relation to the election. If in doubt, seek advice.
4. Special care should be taken in relation to current or ongoing publicity campaigns during the election period. These can continue, provided they are not open to reasonable criticism that they are being undertaken for party political purposes in relation to the election. Any campaigns or initiatives that are liable to be misrepresented as not being politically neutral in relation to the election should be stopped until after the election. Photographs of individual candidates should not appear on council publicity during the purdah period. If in doubt, seek advice.
5. Council premises should not be used for campaign purposes but can be used for public election meetings. If in doubt, seek advice.
Guide to using social media during pre-election period on the Local Government Association (LGA) website
FAQs about pre-election period on the LGA website