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purdah and the upcoming general election – reminder of clarification regarding scientists and media work

This text is taken from message sent by Fiona Fox to scientists and press officers on 30/10/2019

 

Hi folks,

Now that an election date has been settled, we wanted to write to you about the recent change that was made to the purdah rules by the Cabinet Office after lobbying by the scientific community.

As some of you will know, the Royal Statistical Society and Institute of Government took up this issue with Government after the last election when there were more examples than ever of purdah restricting commentary from independent researchers and statisticians. The people in charge of purdah in government were surprised to discover that the purdah rules had encroached so far into the day to day work of research scientists and statisticians. 

In several meetings Sue Gray, then Director-General of the Propriety and Ethics Team and Head of Private Offices Group in the Cabinet Office, stated that purdah rules were not intended to cover the day to day work of independent scientists and that there appeared to have been some over-interpretation of Cabinet Office purdah guidance. In order to correct that and in response to our lobbying, Sue Gray made a change to the main Cabinet Office purdah guidance which was intended to clarify that purdah principles “are not about restricting commentary from independent sources, for example academics” (see the specific changes below).

I wrote a piece for Research Fortnight at the time which was seen in advance by Cabinet Office staff:

https://www.researchresearch.com/news/article/?articleId=1374719

I hope this reminder of the successful lobbying by many of your organisations and friends will encourage you all to bend the purdah stick back to a ‘business as usual’ approach to media work during an election for those of you who are research active scientists working in universities, research institutes and Research Council units.* This means that there is no reason why those kinds of scientists cannot publicise their own research findings, comment on new findings by other academics or comment on breaking science news. 

Happy to chat to anyone further. We will also write to the Cabinet Office and the Chief Scientific Advisors to ensure they are all reminded of the change.

Cheers all

Fiona

(*There are separate rules for non-research active staff at the head offices of RCs/arm’s length bodies, so this advice is not about them)

 

  • For reference, here is the document that was produced for local elections last year that included the changes:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/699095/Pre_election_guidance_for_local_elections_May_2018.pdf

 

  • And here are the specific sections changed. The new sections (in paragraphs 16 and 21 of the PDF linked to above) are as follows:

 

Statistical and Social Research Activities:

16. During the election periods, statistical activities should continue to be conducted in accordance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics and the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008 (and/or the equivalent Orders made by the Devolved Administrations in relation to devolved statistics), which should be read as though it is part of that Code. Regular pre-announced statistical releases (e.g. press notices or bulletin publications) will continue to be issued and published. The principles set out here are not about restricting commentary from independent sources, for example academics. It is for individual public bodies to apply this pre-election guidance within their own organisations, but in doing so they should not go beyond the principles set out in this document.

Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) and other Arm’s Length Bodies (ALBs):

21. NDPBs and other ALBs spend public money, make public announcements, use government property and may employ civil servants. It is for individual public bodies to apply this pre-election guidance within their own organisations, but in doing so they should not go beyond the principles set out in this document. Sponsor departments must ensure that staff and board members of their NDPBs and other ALBs are aware of the guidance. Sponsor departments should be consulted in cases of doubt.”

 

  • And finally, the joint letter sent to the Cabinet Office during the last election which the SMC co-authored:

https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/letter-to-sir-jeremy-heywood-asking-for-clarification-of-purdah-rules-for-scientists/

 

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