New South Tyneside councillor '˜free to continue' despite concerns
Angela Hamilton, who was elected as a Labour councillor in South Tyneside last week, works as a policy and communications officer at Newcastle City Council.
Such jobs – because they involve speaking to the press – are ‘politically restricted’ at many councils, meaning those who hold them are disqualified from standing for election in order to maintain the political neutrality of the council’s non-elected officials.
However, Newcastle City Council says that Coun Hamilton’s job does not fall under that category because of the ‘wide range’ of tasks she performs.
Under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 any role that is deemed to involve ‘speaking on behalf of the authority on a regular basis to journalists or broadcasters’ should be politically restricted.
A council spokesman said: “The role of Communication Officer is not politically restricted at the city council.
“Our officers perform a wide range of communication tasks, and are aware of the requirement to act politically impartially at all times while at work.”
Coun Hamilton, who was sworn in as a councillor at South Shields town hall on Wednesday, polled 1,235 votes to hold the Beacon and Bents ward for Labour, ahead of Green candidate David Francis on 960 and Conservative Ali Hayder’s 261.
Following her election, she pledged to donate a large portion of her councillor’s allowance to charity – 20 per cent to the Charlie Cookson Foundation and 20 per cent to the Tyume Valley Schools South Africa, in memory of friend Archie Sibeko.
Coun Hamilton is also an active trade unionist and represents disabled members on UNISON’s national executive council.
South Tyneside Council said it was down to candidates to declare whether they are disqualified from being elected.
A spokesman said: “Candidates must satisfy at least one of four qualifications in order to stand in local elections.
“Coun Hamilton met the qualification of living and being registered to vote in the Borough and signed a declaration that she was not disqualified from being elected.
“It rests with the candidate to be satisfied that they are not disqualified.”
Coun Hamilton declined to comment.
Coun Greg Stone, Newcastle Liberal Democrat spokesman, said that the opposition party would seek assurances over council officers’ political involvement.
He said : “I think it is important to ensure that there is no overlap between party political activity and the council’s non-political activity.
“Certain council employees are not supposed to be involved in party political activity and that should be strictly enforced.
“We will be seeking assurances from the council chief executive that proper processes have been put in place to ensure that there is a divide between the political and the non-political.”
High-ranking council roles such as head of the authority’s paid service, chief officers, and monitoring officers are also politically restricted.
Daniel Holland , Local Democracy Reporting Service