Council leader denies “gagging” will be imposed

THE leader of Royston town council has denied councillors will be gagged by a new ruling which changes their interaction with the press.

At last week’s council meeting, Cllr Robert Smith said that some councillors were getting “carried away” with talking to the press and that a new protocol was to be introduced, but he has played down the importance of this, saying the rules have always been in place anyway.

“We operate a policy at the moment whereby if councillors are talking to the press about policies and decision they are requested to run it past the town clerk first,” said Cllr Smith.

“This is simply to ensure it is not in conflict with other policies. However this has always been practice, we just operate it unofficially at the moment.

“We are simply making it a standing order, as its never before been in black and white on paper.”

Several councillors objected to the proposal at the meeting, held on Monday May 9, but Cllr Smith said nothing will change with regards press communication.

“Councillors are quite entitled, and indeed they do, write to the press using the name of councillor,” he said. “Recent examples include Cllr Lindsay Davidson writing letters about the Royston 2012 committee.

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“There is also no problem with councillors talking to the press on the phone or in the street. It’s only when they go straight to the press to air their views on something that might conflict with council policies.”

Cllr Smith declined to name a specific incident that triggered off the issue being brought to council, and said that the ruling was typical of authorities throughout the country.

“There wasn’t an incident that made us want to change anything, its just something that has never been addressed properly,” he said.

“The wording I read out at the meeting was taken from a model standing order used throughout the country and is standard practice for many councils.

“Its not peculiar to Royston in any way and this definatley should not be regarded as a gagging.”