Sun, 12 Jan 2020
THE leader of West Berkshire Council has been asked to give assurances that staff will “never again be asked to participate in the distribution of political propaganda”.
On October 1 last year – 30 days before Britain was previously due to leave the EU – council employees were told to sign off all emails with the slogan ‘Get Ready for Brexit’.
At the time, one staff member who asked not be named said: “The council’s code of conduct for staff says I can be disciplined for so much as liking a post on social media deemed to endorse a political view.
“Now they are essentially asking me to be an ambassador for Brexit, possibly the most politically divisive issue of a generation.”
A spokesman from Unison’s West Berkshire branch said: “It seems extraordinary that local government workers are being co-opted into propagating a highly-political message on behalf of the Conservative Government, just months after a huge swathe were restricted from expressing any political opinion in print.
“The authority needs to decide if it wants staff to act as mindless apparatchiks or human beings.”
And at the last executive meeting of 2019, held on Thursday, December 19, Green Party councillor David Marsh asked leader Lynne Doherty to promise there would be no repeat.
He said: “Can the leader of the council give an assurance that West Berkshire Council staff and members will never again be asked to participate in the distribution of political propaganda, as in the recent fiasco of ‘Get Ready for Brexit on October 31?’
Mrs Doherty responded: “The simple answer to it [the question] would be no.
“As leader of this council I feel that my priority is to the residents of West Berkshire and actually on uniting those residents after three very difficult years.
“So my focus is very much going to be on how we ensure they have the communications to enable them to move forward as we move forward with leaving the European Union.”
Mr Marsh responded: “Just to clarify, you said no? Is that right?”
Mrs Doherty replied: “I don’t recognise the question in all honesty.”
Mr Marsh continued: “You will not give an assurance that people will never again be asked to participate in the distribution of political propaganda?”
Mrs Doherty repeated her previous answer, saying: “Because I don’t recognise the question you are asking.”
Mr Marsh then asked her to clarify “the difference between information and propaganda”.
He added: “If this was essential information that was being disseminated to the people of West Berkshire, that was of any benefit of them whatsoever, for it to be put on to everyone’s email and for us to be given literature to distribute in our wards, which was the request.
“If this was essential information, I understand from the latest Queen’s Speech due to leave the European Union on January 31, why aren’t you doing it now?
Mrs Doherty replied: “Information that was passed on directed people to a website which gives them all of the information they might need to consider should we leave the European Union.
“We want to make sure all out residents have access to that information going forward so they can prepare if they need to do so.”
Previously, the council’s communications manager Martin Dunscombe said: “It’s important to us a local authority that our communities have the information they need to make Brexit as smooth as possible for them.
“The information staff are asked to include signposts people to relevant and up-to-date information which is available at gov.uk/Brexit.”