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Council staff ‘told not to read or talk to us’ claims hyperlocal editor

steven-downesAn editor has hit back after claiming a council has tried to gag its staff from reading or talking to his hyperlocal news website.

Steven Downes, who runs Inside Croydon, has criticised the London Borough of Croydon after publishing the claims on his site.

It comes after his site reported Katherine Kerswell, the authority’s new chief executive, had told staff “not to read or talk to Inside Croydon” in a virtual briefing.

The council was made subject to a Section 114 notice, which is issued when councils cannot achieve a balanced budget and bans almost all new expenditure, earlier this month.

Inside Croydon had emailed the council’s press office at 12.46pm on 11 November, the day the Section 114 was announced, to ask whether the notice was due to be issued.

A press release was subsequently issued on the same day at 4.15pm confirming the move.

But one unnamed council staffer told Inside Croydon the new chief executive had said “she only had half an hour to draft her memo because the big bad Inside Croydon were going to break the news about the Section 114 notice” during the latest briefing.

Speaking to HTFP, Steven said: “The council and council officials don’t like people asking awkward questions.

“The excuse given early on [in Inside Croydon’s history] was they would not respond to media requests because we weren’t a newspaper. They’ve hidden behind that for a decade.”

Steven, pictured, added: “The public want a bit of honesty and frankness from their local authority leadership. They don’t want obfuscation or circumlocution, but in the end, that’s what they’re getting from their council tax.

“I do get the impression from dealing with other local authorities now that they really would prefer it if no-one knew what they were doing.”

HTFP has approached the authority for a comment on Steven’s claims.