Did Cllr Phil Davies breach the Code of Conduct by linking to a party political website in a Wirral Council email?
Yesterday I was forwarded an interesting email which is a reply to a resident asking the recently reelected Councillor Phil Davies (although at the time of the reply he hadn’t been reelected in Birkenhead and Tranmere yet) in response to a question about why he doesn’t allow comments on his blog. For those who don’t know Cllr Phil Davies is Leader of Wirral Council and of the ruling Labour group of councillors. I’ve obscured the email address & name of the resident he’s writing to. Below is the email followed by some comments of my own.
Sent: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 10:35 AM
To: **** ********
Subject: RE: leaders blog
Dear Mr ********,
Thank you for your email. Comments facilities on blogs are generally not moderated, so people can post basically whatever they like and the comment will be published. Given that my blog is linked to the Council website, and available to view by residents of all ages, the Council has taken the decision to disable the comment facility entirely to remove the risk of inappropriate, libellous or otherwise offensive comments being posted on the blog and, by extension, the Council website. If any resident wishes to contact me directly they can do this easily as all of my contact details – email address, phone numbers, home address etc are published on the Council’s website.
Councillor Phil Davies
Leader of Wirral Council
Labour Councillor for Birkenhead and Tranmere ward
Tel: 0151 691 8540
‘Most Improved Council’
If Councillor Phil Davies wishes to moderate comments, he need only log into the WordPress admin panel for his blog, click on Settings, then Discussion, tick the box that I’ve highlighted with a red oval below, then scroll down and click on save changes. If he does that then people will be able to leave comments, but he will get to choose if they are approved (and therefore published) or not.
Since 1st January 2014, the Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013 have been in force. If the procedures in the regulations are followed, then the operator of the blog has a defence under s.5 of the Defamation Act 2013 in respect of third party content such as comments posted on the blog in respect of libel court cases. Out of 3,171 comments on this blog only two have been removed (after following the procedure outlined in the regulations) following complaints received.
Moving to the sentence where he writes “Given that my blog is linked to the Council website, and available to view by residents of all ages, the Council has taken the decision to disable the comment facility entirely to remove the risk of inappropriate, libellous or otherwise offensive comments being posted on the blog and, by extension, the Council website.”
This is a very curious statement to make. Below is a screenshot of Wirral Council’s homepage which has a picture of Councillor Phil Davies, which also links to the last two posts he’s made to his blog.
As you can see it just displays the last two headlines from his blog and links to the last two posts made on his blog. Now I have comments enabled on my blog (in fact the latest blog post of an election result has two comments on it). So what happens when I replace the address for my blog with Cllr Phil Davies’ blog on Wirral Council’s homepage?
As you can see, even on a blog with comments on such as mine, the script on Wirral Council’s website just displays (and links to) the last two blog posts by whatever headline was used, not the comments. So comments (if he had any) on Cllr Phil Davies’ blog wouldn’t be cross posted to Wirral Council’s website.
Finally I notice that Cllr Phil Davies links in his email to this website (which if you were in any doubt was a party political website I include two screenshots from it below). The first is the top of the website, the bottom is the imprint:
Bear in mind that when Cllr Phil Davies wrote that reply, he was a candidate in the election of a councillor in Birkenhead & Tranmere (and a councillor).
Here is what Wirral Council’s Councillor’s Code of Conduct states on the matter:
2. When using or authorising the use by others of the resources of the authority-
2.2. DO make sure that such resources are not used improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes); and
2.3. DO have regard to any applicable Local Authority Code of Publicity made under the Local Government Act 1986 (as amended).
So was writing to a resident using Wirral Council’s email system including a link to a party political website improper use of Wirral Council’s resources by Councillor Phil Davies? If you think so, you can make a complaint using the online form linked to from this page.
Not so long ago over in Liverpool (back in November 2013), a committee found that Cllr Richard Kemp had improperly used Liverpool City Council letterheads and the Liverpool City Council mail system for party political purposes. The result was a formal motion of censure.
So what are your views on this? Please leave a comment to let me know what you think.
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