'Council mag in breach of rules'
OPPOSITION councillors have lodged a complaint with the Government over claims strict rules on political promotion in the build-up to a by-election were breached.
They say Labour-run Stoke-on-Trent City Council distributed copies of its glossy self-promotion magazine Our City at the same time as candidates were campaigning for the vacant Springfields and Trent Vale seat.
City Independent councillor Jackie Barnes claimed a surprise victory in the battle to replace former Labour councillor Sarah Hill, who quit the authority after losing her role as a cabinet member.
But the group claims the council should have been following 'Purdah' rules which forbid publications or announcements which could benefit any candidate in the run-up to an election.
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Now they have written to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to formally complain and request his department investigates whether rules have been broken.
The council insists residents should not have started receiving copies of the magazine until July 26, the day of the election, and said distribution did not start in the election ward until after the vote.
But Mrs Barnes, of Trent Vale, said: "I received my copy before the election. I remember it arriving because it's the first one I'd actually had for 12 months. I also remember a friend of mine from Penkhull brought a copy over and she had jokingly stuck a little photograph of me next to the empty space for Springfields and Trent Vale."
Group leader Dave Conway said: "It was full of nothing but fantastic news. It might as well have been an election leaflet. If we had put out our own glossy leaflet explaining what the City Independents want to do we would have had to declare it in our election expenses.
"But they used council money to put Labour spin through the letterboxes."
The July edition included a series of photographs and articles promoting the work of Labour cabinet members. It featured an article which 'sugar-coated' the council's controversial plans to relocate 1,300 office staff from Stoke to a new £40 million HQ in Hanley.
Council leader Mohammed Pervez later admitted controversy surrounding the move was a key factor in Labour's defeat.
The article, under the headline 'Plans in the pipeline for big Stoke boost', referred to 'massive redevelopment' and 'job creation' in the town but made no reference to a campaign against the relocation – or the loans of up to £59 million to facilitate it.
A city council spokesman said: "Distribution did not begin in the Springfields and Trent Vale area until the week of July 30, the week after the by-election. Our City is published as a non-political magazine. Its aim is not to influence voters but instead to provide factual information."