Like all local authorities, City Hall is having to be careful about the information it puts out during the General Election period to avoid accidentally influencing anyone’s votes.
But the way the rules are being enforced has drawn ire from some London Assembly members who complain that their work in holding the Mayor to account is now being hidden.
Last week (March 25th) was Mayor’s Question Time. As always questions to the Mayor were split into three groups – oral questions on his report to the Assembly, AMs’ tabled oral questions for answering during the meeting, and finally written questions tabled for later response.
A webcast of the meeting – including the answers to the first two sets – remains available on the City Hall website despite it being littered with the usual political knockabout.
But publication of the written answers – which are usually shorn of any point-scoring and tend to be wholly factual – has been blocked by Greater London Authority civil servants until after the General Election even though many of the answers were prepared last week.
This means Londoners can’t see the answers to the questions for another six weeks – by which time many will be out of date or no longer of relevance.
And it makes it harder for AMs to pass back answers to constituents who they asked questions on behalf of.
(If you’d like your AM to ask a question, you can submit it here)
A GLA spokesperson has defended the decision, claiming that the delay is essential to abide by election publicity rules.
Yet on the same day AMs were told the answers to their questions were to be withheld, the Office for National Statistics published good news about the UK’s economy – something far more likely to have relevance in a General Election than Boris’s answer setting out the Met’s cost-benefit analysis of policing Parliament Square or explaining how Tufnell Park Tube users will be compensated during its closure.
Meanwhile Boris is still (rightly) publishing details of the decisions he’s taken and his office is issuing press releases, including one today which highlights his Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation’s role in delivering “up to 24,000 homes and more than 55,000 jobs.”
There has to be something wrong with a set of rules which allow a Government to benefit from a positive official analysis of their economic policies and a Mayor to talk about the homes he’s creating but stops Londoners reading how their public services are being held to account?