War of words between government and council over its communications on Covid-19 funding, reports James Cracknell
The leader of Enfield Council has hit back at a government minister who accused the authority of breaking the publicity code regulating its communications.
Luke Hall, the minister for local government, wrote a letter to Nesil Caliskan alleging that two press releases issued by the Labour-run council last year had failed “to observe the principles of objectivity and even-handedness” in the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity, which requires all publicity to be “politically impartial”.
The press statements in question had called on the government to provide more funding to meet the costs of Covid-19, but the minister said in his January letter that they had omitted to mention how much support the government had given to the council during the pandemic.
The Conservative MP wrote: “My department has reviewed your website and, at time of writing, notes there is no update and it does not mention Enfield had received some £31.99million from the government across three tranches of emergency funding and wider Covid-19 grants.”
He added: “I would urge you to keep your public materials both accurate and updated.”
This week Cllr Caliskan hit back with her own letter to Hall, describing the council’s previous public statements on its Covid-19 finances as “entirely factual” at the time they had been issued. She also pointed out that the council had been given “just over half” of its forecast £28.8m pandemic-related costs for the year ahead and was raising council tax to help cover the gap.
The council leader wrote in her response: “The press statements you refer to in your correspondence were clearly dated and entirely factual. Enfield Council is committed to transparent and accurate financial reporting and our budget position is reflected in regular reports published on our website.”
She went on to offer the Conservative minister for regional growth and local government help in “understanding council finances” by directing him to the Local Government Association website.
Opposition councillors in Enfield said the fact the minister had felt the need to write to the council over its public communications was “alarming”.
Tory group leader Joanne Laban said: “It is damning that the minister felt the need to write to the Labour leader of the council and include a reminder of the code of practice relating to taxpayer-funded council communications.
“What is particularly alarming is the point in the letter about financial figures posted on the website not tallying with what has been formally submitted by the council to the government.”