A council has banned a regional daily reporter from speaking to its press office after a story revealing that it spent more than £12,000 on coaching sessions for its chief executive.
Last Friday’s Evening Star exclusive about Suffolk County Council boss Andrea Hill was followed up by a string of national newspapers over the weekend.
But the local government correspondent who broke the story, Paul Geater, has now been told that the authority is no longer prepared to work with him and will issue a blanket ‘no comment’ to all future requests for information.
Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover has branded the ban as “laughable and ridiculous” and splashed it across pages one, two and three of yesterday’s edition.
The council imposed the sanction after the Star’s exclusive revelations that £218,000-a-year chief executive Ms Hill received 23 sessions with coaching guru Sol Davidson at £525 a time.
Senior press officer Andrew St Ledger told Paul that the council didn’t like the “tone” of the story, which arose from a series of FoI requests tabled by Paul.
Said Nigel: “I have seen the Freedom of Information request, together with the answer from Suffolk County Council and stand by Paul Geater and our story 100 per cent
“The ban is as laughable as it is ridiculous – the county council needs to get its message across, not to suppress it because they are unhappy with what it sees as the tone of a true story.”
Paul has worked as local government correspondent for the Star since 1994 and never been banned from speaking to councillors or press officers before.
The council’s action has been roundly condemned by both the town’s MPs.
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said: “This is bizarre behaviour from the county council. Councils should be publishing all details of invoices they pay in any case, so it’s hardly as if they can keep these figures a secret.
“Paul was only doing his job – reporting on what the county was spending our money on. And with public finances so tight, it is only right that he does just that. The council needs to stop this silly vendetta.”
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter added: “This is ridiculous, it is a crazy decision. It is important to have journalists to hold authorities like the county council to account.
“There is nothing unreasonable about these stories – people have the right to know how public money is being spent.”