Councillor's were surprised yesterday to recieve two copies of the same Norwich City Council press release regarding the environmental standards of new homes in Three Score, Bowthorpe.
The first was the standard press release copy sent to the media, councillors, senior council officers and others.
The second was a carbon copy of the first, with the exception of one thing ... the addition of this line:
Further to the below email, Bowthorpe councillor Brenda Ferris is available for comment on XXXXX XXX XXX. Thanks
This is a bizarre move - normally all the material the council wishes to give is in the press release and no further comment is made. On Norfolk County Council Press Releases the contact details for all 4 party spokesman are given in order to be fair. Normally Norwich give contact details of nobody to be fair.
Yet on this important story regarding Bowthorpe, a decision was made to encourage the press to contact a specific councillor for more comment - and it just happens that this specific councillor is the sole Labour member for the area. The majority Conservative Councillors were ignored. Neither Cllr Wyatt nor I were contacted.
Was it because of Cllr Ferris being Deputy Leader of the Council? Nope. Look at the wording - it's very clear. Not Deputy Leader Councillor Brenda Ferris, but Bowthorpe Councillor Brenda Ferris.
John and I have now had to ask why this was the case and also for assurances that the Communications Department at City Hall were not "leaned on" over this story. We need to know that press officer were not asked to put in the line in order to get publicity for a Labour councillor in a marginal seat up for election next May. We also want to know how many press releases are followed up with Labour Councillor contact details.
This unfortunately looks very suspicious. The extra e-mail, the inclusion of the local member details and the fact it was only Cllr Ferris should make us think again. We need assurances on this - and fast. Our Communications Department must be, and must be seen to be, pushing the message of the authority not of a political party. The impartiality of local government depends on it.
Of course, the irony is that the EDP who followed the story up today took the quotes from the press release from Cllr Morphew and also those from my own press release which I did off my own back and without the aid of a local government bureaucracy.