Stoke & Staffordshire

Cheshire East Council media team tweeted for leader

Tweets Image copyright Michael Jones / Twitter

Council staff composed and posted tweets in the name of the Conservative council leader, it has emerged.

Michael Jones approved messages written by Cheshire East council's media team - which is required to be politically neutral - and staff then posted them.

It has led to allegations of misuse of public resources and one senior Labour figures said Mr Jones "should resign".

Mr Jones said he no longer used staff to draft tweets and opponents had used the issue as a "political football".

He said he had only used staff suggestions early after joining Twitter.

"I think I'm good enough and strong enough to attack my political opponents," he said.

The council said its chief executive had been made aware of the issue.

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Media captionCheshire East council leader Michael Jones challenged over tweets

Local authorities are legally required to be neutral public bodies.

The tweets were published on Mr Jones' personal account, which has a disclaimer to say the opinions expressed are personal and not on behalf of the council.

One read: "Moribund Miliband talks of a national mission. A mission to economic disaster."

Colin Copus, professor of local politics at De Montfort University, said it was the "nature" of the politically-biased tweets which was a concern.

"It would be perfectly appropriate for a press office to compose a tweet and post in the leader's name something like 'it's going to be a frosty night, so the gritters are out'," he said.

Mr Copus said the issue was not that the council could appear in favour of the Conservative Party, but that the taxpayer may not be getting "good value for money if some staff members are diverted into working for Mr Jones personally".

Resignation call

The Local Government Act prohibits authorities from publishing "any material which appears to have an effect on public support for any political party".

Cheshire East Council's constitution specifies staff, "should avoid being drawn into discussions of politically contentious matters"

It adds: "Any input should be consistent with the requirements for political impartiality."

In a statement, the authority said its chief executive had been made aware of the issue and staff no longer drafted tweets for Mr Jones.

Sam Corcoran, a senior opposition Labour councillor, said: "This matter on its own is serious. It's a clear breach of the code.

"He has clearly been using council officers to make party political statements for the Conservative party. That on its own is a reason for him to resign as the leader of Cheshire East Council."

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