Councillor under investigation over alleged code breach

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The deputy leader of Calderdale Council has been accused of using council funds to promote his own party.

Coun Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse) sent letters to residents in Brighouse advertising his surgeries, but the leaflet also promoted the Conservative party and included a photograph of the incumbent MP for Calder Valley Craig Whittaker.

The leaflets appear to breach the Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities Publicity because of the inclusion of “political advertising”.

A complaint has been made by the Labour group to the council’s legal department.

Coun Tim Swift, leader of the Labour group, said: “I am very concerned that the deputy leader of the council should be discovered apparently misusing council resources in this way.

“We do not know how much has been posted out altogether - but we do know from the dates of the mailings that this would seem to have occurred on more than one occasion.

“I have asked the Council’s legal officer to investigate, and to take steps to make sure the practice is brought to an immediate halt.

“I do not know whether other members have been involved in this, or whether the potential misuse is restricted to councillor Benton.

“This is a very serious matter which could bring the Council into disrepute. There are clear rules to ensure that council resources cannot be used to promote individual members.

The council leader, Coun Baines, now needs to consider whether Coun Benton is a fit and proper person to be a member of the Cabinet in the light of this.”

Coun Benton confirmed that the letters had been sent out and believes he has done nothing wrong.

He said: “The letters were to advertise my surgeries which are available to all local residents and which are held regularly. The letters contained no political content at all.

“Holding regular surgeries is an important part of my duty as a councillor and many residents were pleased to receive the letters which informed them of my new surgery dates.

“This is political mischief-making by the Labour Party and is blatant electioneering.

“I have complied with the guidelines for sending out post through the council’s mailing system and nobody from the council has contacted me regarding this.”

Coun James Baker (Lib Dem, Warley), deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said he thought the leaflets probably did breach the code because they include a Conservative party logo and a photograph of Craig Whittaker.

He said: “Scott is a respected member of the council, and I’m sure he’ll do the right thing and reimburse the council for the cost of all the postage.”

A spokesperson from the council said: “We are aware that a complaint has been made and are currently investigating.”