The Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council has been found in breach of purdah during the recent Sovereign Ward by-election.
The rule restricts what councillors can say in the run up to voting, in particular making announcements for new council initiatives.
A complaint was submitted by the Conservative Party at Town Hall, regarding Councillor David Tutt revealing a new Sovereign Centre is to be built, during a public meeting surrounding the future of farms on Eastbourne Downland.
Liberal Democrat, Councillor Tutt said in response to the allegation, “My recollection of the reference to this at the meeting with farms protestors, was that I was asked if we were only going to receive £1million from the sale of farm freeholds as this is the amount which we have earmarked for Downland improvements. I responded to explain that the remainder of the proceeds which is likely to amount to many millions will go to support the capital programme. I then mentioned the New swimming pool alongside many other capital schemes from Devonshire Park to town centre improvements and housing. I did this in order that people might understand that this is not badged against a single scheme which could have led them to believe that it is one thing or another. I most certainly did not grandstand an announcement, not did I go to the meeting intending to mention it but responded to a question.”
An internal investigation was carried out by the Monitoring Officer and was also looked at by two independent persons.
The report, which has been leaked to Eastbourne Buzz, said, “Their shared view is that this matter does constitute a breach of purdah rules and the complaint should be upheld. However, both have come to the view that the breach was unintentional and in no way designed to influence voters in the Sovereign Ward by-election. They are satisfied that this was a minor, if careless, reference during a debate on an entirely separate issue and does not warrant anything more than an informal response from the Monitoring Officer. They are also conscious that there has been no previous incident of purdah breach by Councillor Tutt.”
The Monitoring Officer, Peter Finnis, said in his conclusion, “I do not believe that there was intent on Councillor Tutt’s part to breach purdah. Neither do I feel that the reference to the Sovereign Centre was intended for electoral purposes. I find it to be a matter of carelessness rather than intent.”
Councillor Tutt has been issued with an informal warning and all councillors have been reminded of their responsibilities during purdah ahead of next year’s elections.