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Conduct during elections

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) has issued a document which gives guidance to police and crime commissioners and their offices about the handling of the sensitive period prior to local and general elections in England and Wales– commonly referred to as ‘purdah’.

The full document can be read by following this link Pre-election Period (Purdah) Guidance but following several requests for clairification via social media it seemed appropriate to highlight what that guidance says about the commissioner's conduct in the build up to elections - particularly in relation to campaigning.

That guidance is printed below.

Police and crime commissioners

It is recognised that police and crime commissioners have a key political role to play in their local communities, and it is for commissioners to decide whether they wish to play an active role in supporting political colleagues in the forthcoming elections. Deputy police and crime commissioners are in much the same position, since they are politically unrestricted, and it would be more appropriate for them to follow the advice for police and crime commissioners set out below, than the advice relevant to the other staff of the OPCC, which is more restrictive. However, police and crime commissioners may feel that some pointers would be useful to clarify what they (and their deputies) are able to do, in order to minimise possible reputational and legal risks to their position during the pre-election period.

It is also recognised, particularly in relation to elections which do not apply directly to police and crime commissioners, that business as usual will continue, although PCCs may wish to consider whether they should exercise additional care in the conduct of some matters. See Section 6 below for more detail.

There are three key points which police and crime commissioners may wish to bear in mind (although it is worth remembering that these apply to police and crime commissioners at all times, but it is generally accepted that particular care should be taken in the purdah period):

  1. The restrictions placed on police and crime commissioners by virtue of the Code of Practice on Local Authority Publicity (Annex A) – (S6 Local Government Act 1986, as amended by Schedule 16, paragraph 173 of the Police Reform and Local Responsibility Act;
  2. The impact of the Seven Principles of Public Life (Nolan Principles), by which police and crime commissioners are bound as holders of a public office;
  3. The impact of the PCCs Oath of Office (the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Declaration of Acceptance of Office) Order 2012).

Nothing in either the Oath of Office or within Nolan Principles prevents police and crime commissioners from acting in a party political capacity as a private individual, but they should not use their public office as a police and crime commissioner to support party political candidates, or seek to influence the outcome of the election in a party political way. For instance, the Nolan obligation to act with integrity and objectivity means that PCCs would want to avoid placing themselves in difficult positions that might lead to perceptions of conflict of interest or lack of impartiality in the performance of their official duties.

It is therefore of fundamental importance that PCCs sould distinguish between their public office as PCC (which is ‘political’ but attracts certain restrictions or expectations) and their personal role as a local party politician.

There are two overarching key principles which PCC should bear in mind (noting, as mentioned above, that they apply at all times and not just in periods of purdah):

  • The Code of Practice on Local Authority Resources prevents the use of public resources for party political purposes, which includes both the staff of the PCC and force, and the facilities and equipment of the OPCC/force (the Cabinet Office Guidance at Annex B also contains some helpful pointers to what might be considered inappropriate use of public resources).
  • PCCs should also be careful not give the impression that the local police support a particular party, or use information about the police force in supporting local candidates which is not publicly available.