Purdah? Schmurdah…

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CAUSE has written to the Cabinet Office setting out our concerns about the various engagement processes and exhibitions being held during a pre-election period.   If you want to write, the email address is publiccorrespondence@cabinetoffice.gov.uk

 

Dear Sir or Madam

Ref:  Concern about breach of Purdah rules

I write as a representative of the Campaign Against Urban Sprawl in Essex (CAUSE) to raise concerns about a series of highly contentious public body-run exhibitions which have been announced, publicised and held during the pre-election ‘Purdah’ period.

Cabinet Office General Election Guidance 2019

 

We understand ‘Purdah’ to be a pre election pause in government activity.  Below are the relevant paragraphs from the General Election Guidance document prepared by the Cabinet Officer:

“1.      the need to maintain, and be seen to maintain, the impartiality of the Civil Service, and to avoid any criticism of an inappropriate use of official resources”

“2.      This guidance applies to all UK civil servants, and the board members and staff of Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) and other arms’ length bodies.”

“Paid Media 11. Exhibitions. Official exhibitions on a contentious policy or proposal should not be kept open or opened during the election period. Official exhibitions that form part of a privately sponsored exhibition do not have to be withdrawn unless they are contentious, in which case they should be withdrawn.”

“14. Printed material should not normally be given any fresh distribution in the United Kingdom during the election period, in order to avoid any competition with the flow of election material.”

 

Public bodies

The public bodies in question are:

North Essex Garden Communities Limited (NEGC)

NEGC is a body which is publicly owned, and funded, by four three local authorities and Essex County Council.   Despite this, it claims that it is not a public body, being a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC).

However, Government’s classification and guidance document[1] notes that a public body is defined as;

“a formally established organisation that is (at least in part) publically funded to deliver a public or government service, though not as a ministerial department. The term refers to a wide range of entities that are covered as within the Public Sector.”

The guidance document also states:

  • “1.2.4 Non-Classified Local Government & Devolved Administration Bodies: Similar to Parliamentary bodies, these are set up by and directly accountable to either Local Government or the Devolved Administrations”;
  • “Local government public bodies vary widely in terms of size, duration, function and governance structure. Their funding will usually come from the local government that has established and sponsors them, however, in some instances they may also raise commercial funding, and apply for central government grants.”

NEGC is all of the above.  Its purpose is to deliver the local plan of the authorities that fund it and is using central government funding to pursue this goal.

 

In addition, we note that NEGC’s accounts[2] refer to its membership of the Local Government Pension Scheme administered by Essex County Council – a civil service pension scheme.

 

The above seems to make it abundantly clear that NEGC is a public body.  Even if there is some technicality whereby a LATC is not viewed as such, NEGC has not provided the relevant information to us.   In this situation public perception must be taken into account.   The north Essex public sees NEGC as a public body.

 

The proposals being promoted by NEGC are highly unpopular and extremely contentious.  Over 8,500 people signed a petition against one of the new towns being promoted, and 1,500 people have asked CAUSE to represent them in opposing the proposals at Examination in January.    The project being promoted has not been found sound by a Planning Inspector, yet this engagement programme is costing tax-payers £60,000.   NEGC itself is a contentious body which has cost tax-payers £7.6m.

 

Therefore, we believe that NEGC should immediately desist from creating any further promotional material (including social media posts to advertise forthcoming exhibitions) and should cancel the public exhibitions and workshops scheduled for November.   These include:   21 November, 23 November 25 November, 28 November.    NEGC has already held two such exhibitions during Purdah, on 7 and 9 November, which CAUSE attended.

 

We have already raised these issues with NEGC, to no avail.

 

Highways England

Highways England is also holding a public consultation[3], with several exhibitions during Purdah, about moving the A12 to accommodate one of NEGCs proposals.   This is also a highly contentious and unnecessary project, wasteful of tax-payers money, and being held prematurely, at tax-payers’ cost.  We already have written to the Chief Executive of Highways England raising our concerns.[4]  The letter has received widespread press coverage locally[5].

 

Essex Highways

Only hours before the start of Purdah, Essex Highways announced its own consultation, on a link road and ‘rapid transit system’.   This involves a series of public exhibitions during Purdah.

 

We hope to hear from you at the earliest opportunity given the time sensitive nature of our concerns.

 

Yours faithfully

 

 

Rosie Pearson

Secretary

CAUSE

stopurbansprawlnow@gmail.com[6]

[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/519571/Classification-of-Public_Bodies-Guidance-for-Departments.pdf

[2] Available on Companies House no 10319743

[3] Details here:  https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/he/a12-chelmsford-to-a120-widening-scheme-23-to-25/

[4] http://www.cause4livingessex.com/letter-to-ceo-highways-england-re-a12-consultation/

[5] Including this, by way of example, https://www.braintreeandwithamtimes.co.uk/news/18029067.consultation-new-a12-routes-labelled-sham-critics/

[6] Details here:  https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/he/a12-chelmsford-to-a120-widening-scheme-23-to-25/