Rotten Borough: the legal stuff

Bit technical this one I’m afraid but it’s probably worth hearing.

To recap:

A £10k cash donation to the Bristol North West Constituency Labour Party has been recorded by the Electoral Commission as coming from an unincorporated association using the name ‘the Bristol Labour Group’ and using a Council House office address where local government officers – not Labour Party workers – paid from the public purse are based. This £10k in cash is the largest donation to any Constituency Labour Party anywhere made this year.

The Blogger has received legal advice on this matter and here’s some of what it says:

“[The donation to] which you refer relates to the Bristol Labour Group and is a matter for the Electoral Commission. The Bristol Labour Group might (or might not – I do not know) share the same members as the Labour Group of Bristol City Council but it is a completely different entity which may well have a constitution and political purposes etc.”

What this means is that ‘the Bristol Labour Group’ that donated the £10k cannot be the same ‘Bristol Labour Group’ made up of Labour councillors on Bristol City Council. As The Blogger speculated some time ago, it appears – legally – that there are indeed two ‘Bristol Labour Groups’ operating within the Council House. Both apparently operating from the same office staffed by publicly funded local government officers.

One ‘Bristol Labour Group’ is perfectly legitimate and is regulated by the Government and Housing Act 1989 and Local Government (Committees and Political Groups Regulations) 1990. This group, once it has issued a political group notice to the council listing its members is perfectly entitled to local government officer support and office space etc.

The members of this group would also not be required to declare their membership of this group in the Register of Members’ Interests as their formal political group notice would cover this.

However, our legal advice also tells us:

“Each group within the council is supported by a group office which provides clerical support etc. The group offices do not work as political sites but as support sites – there should be no “political propaganda on the rates”.

Clearly work such as fundraising and donations for the Labour Party is political work rather than support work. This means any work on fundraising and donations is (a) not work being conducted by the ‘Bristol Labour Group’ as constituted by the political group notice to Bristol City Council and (b) it is not work that should be being conducted by the publicly funded Labour Group Office at the Council House.

This has a number of repercussions:

– as clearly set out in Bristol City Council’s Code of Conduct for Members (pdf), any Labour councillor who is also a member of ‘the Bristol Labour Group’ that is involved in fundraising and donations to the Labour Party needs to declare this in the Register of Members’ Interests. At present no Bristol City Council member has.

– the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 governs the conduct of local government officers acting as political assistants to councillors and the council’s Protocol on the provision of support to Councillors by Members Services staff (pdf) provides further guidance. The use of local government officers, resources, equipment and property for party political fundraising and donations is clearly proscribed in both documents. At present it appears that Labour Party councillors and their political support staff have breached these guidelines.

In view of this The Blogger understands that in the new year complaints will be made to the Standards Board for England regarding the failure of all Bristol City Council’s Labour councillors to register a pecuniary interest in ‘the Bristol Labour Group’ that has donated money to the Labour Party and to Bristol City Council for breaches of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 and their protocol on support to councillors.

A report will also be lodged with the Electoral Commission and all Labour councillors will be approached in order that they can explain which ‘Bristol Labour Group’ they understand themselves to be a member of.

Should be an interesting new year …

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2 Responses to Rotten Borough: the legal stuff

  1. Jozer says:

    So what is the ‘legal advice’ for anyone who wishes to suggest that Sam Townend [snip]

    Just asking, like.

  2. thebristolblogger says:

    Generally the advice is be careful how you word things mate.

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