Ombudsman ticks off council chief

The chief executive of Bury Council, Mark Sanders, has been warned by the Local Government Ombudsmen after he wrote to his local paper suggesting it stop printing readers' letters that opposed school closures in Prestwich.

The Prestwich Advertiser had carried numerous letters from angry readers after it published a document submitted by the governors to Prestwich Arts College to the Independent School Organisation Committee, which decides whether the schools should close. It claimed the schools were only marked for closure in order to gain £15m of extra government funding, a claim which Sanders rejected. When the letters flooded in Sanders wrote a letter to the Advertiser asking it to consider "giving the letters over to a different set of issues this week". He added: "The Schools Organisation Committee are relatively inexperienced people, not used to the sort of campaigning being exhibited. There is a legal due process that does not allow the other side of the argument to be put. Therefore what is happening is that they are being subjected to the sort of designed pressure to unduly fetter their judgment."

Advertiser editor Vince Hale replied saying: "The letters page provides our readers with an invaluable forum to air their views and debate important issues.

"For a council's chief executive to suggest we ignore those comments for fear of influencing an independent committee is ludicrous and underhand."

The ombudsmen has cleared Sanders of any wrongdoing, but advised his actions were ill-advised and not the best practice. The investigator, Tracey Sanderson, said that if Sanders were to repeat such tactics in the future, then the ombudsmen could find grounds to criticise the council.

Mr Sanders said: "All I did was ask people to bear the weighting of the correspondence in mind and allow the SOC to have a bit of freedom for one week alone."


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