A council press officer has been given the green light to serve as a councillor on a neighbouring authority after her employer ruled her role was not “politically restricted”.
Angela Hamilton, who was elected as a Labour councillor in South Tyneside last month, works as a policy and communications officer at Newcastle City Council.
According to the Shields Gazette, many councils consider such roles to be “politically restricted” because they involve speaking to the press, meaning those who work in them are disqualified from standing for election in order to maintain the political neutrality of the council’s non-elected officials.
But Newcastle says Councillor Hamilton’s job does not fall under that category because of the ‘wide range’ of tasks she performs.
Cllr Greg Stone, Newcastle Liberal Democrat spokesman, told the Gazette his party would seek assurances over council officers’ political involvement as a result of the decision.
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.”
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 Newcastle City 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.”
Cllr Hamilton, pictured, declined to comment when approached by the Gazette.
A South Tyneside 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.”