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Watching this video, at the 1:38 timestamp, an employee of the council says that she needs to be careful of what is she saying.

Unrepeatable, basically - err, I work for the council though, so I need to watch what I'm saying!

This came as shock to me, shouldn't she have the right to free speech and to express her opinion without consequence on her job? Is it illegal for her to do so?

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    Can you summarise that video more than "an employee" and "she" and an admonishment to be careful about what is said.
    – Caleth
    Oct 5 '21 at 11:12
  • It could be argued that for civil servants, publicly criticising the government is a bit like a company employee publicly criticising their employer, and may be similarly career-limiting. Conversely, criticising other political parties is a bit like criticising their future employer, which could be awkward if there is a change in the governing party - bearing in mind that civil servants stay in their posts if that happens. So the requirement to appear politically neutral may derive from this. Oct 6 '21 at 15:08
  • @SteveMelnikoff I don't feel this is correct. I think they work for the public not for the government. This to me seems just like dictatorships, where citizens can't criticize the leader.
    – Mocas
    Oct 7 '21 at 23:04
  • @Mocas: well, philosophically, civil servants (and politicians) serve the public, yes. Practically, however, civil servants are there to implement government policy, and ultimately report to ministers, who are accountable to Parliament, which is elected by the people. In any case, there are many jobs which restrict freedom of speech - e.g. anything with a confidentially clause. And (unless national security is involved) you're not forbidden from saying certain things (e.g. publicly criticising your employer) - but there may be consequences if you do, which may include losing your job. Oct 8 '21 at 8:42
  • Restrictions on freedom of speech for national security or confidentiality are understandable, but in the example above, it is merely a public servant's opinion on the performance of the PM, they both work for the public. It is just bizarre for this to be illegal in my opinion.
    – Mocas
    Oct 8 '21 at 12:46
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In general, yes, but not if the employee holds a 'politically restricted post', as defined by Section 2 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. This section defines a list of posts within a local authority which are always politically restricted:

  1. The following persons are to be regarded for the purposes of this Part as holding politically restricted posts under a local authority—

    a. the person designated under section 4 below as the head of the authority’s paid service;

    b. the statutory chief officers;

    c. a non-statutory chief officer;

    d. a deputy chief officer;

    e. the monitoring officer designated under section 5 below;

    f. any person holding a post to which he was appointed in pursuance of section 9 below; and

    g. any person not falling within paragraphs (a) to (f) above whose post is for the time being specified by the authority in a list maintained in accordance with subsection (2) below and any directions under section 3 [F1or 3A] below or with section 100G(2) of the Local Government Act 1972 or section 50G(2) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (list of officers to whom powers are delegated).

It further requires local authorities to draw up a list (subsection 2) of further politically restricted posts if they fall into certain job categories:

  1. The duties of a post under a local authority fall within this subsection if they consist in or involve one or both of the following, that is to say—

    a. giving advice on a regular basis to the authority themselves, to any committee or sub-committee of the authority or to any joint committee on which the authority are represented, or, where the authority are operating executive arrangements, to the executive of the authority, to any committee of that executive, or to any member of that executive who is also a member of the authority];

    b. speaking on behalf of the authority on a regular basis to journalists or broadcasters.

The restrictions on these posts are defined by The Local Government Officers (Political Restrictions) Regulations 1990, and include restrictions on running for office, acting as an election agent, performing certain functions in a political party, canvassing for a political party, speaking publicly "with the apparent intention of affecting public support for a political party", or publishing any written or artistic work which could affect support for a political party.

In the particular video you reference, it could be argued that if the council employee held a politically restricted post, she could have been in breach of paragraph 6 of Schedule I:

  1. The appointee shall not speak to the public at large or to a section of the public with the apparent intention of affecting public support for a political party.

Even if not holding a politically restricted post, paragraph 9.3 of part 5 of the Constitution of Hillingdon Council (the local authority encompassing Uxbridge and South Ruislip) states:

For other officers, not subject to these restrictions, it is important that you do not carry out any political activity in a way that might lead the public to think you are acting as a Council employee which could represent a conflict of interest with the stated aims of the Council.

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    This has excellently covered the "for what reason", but doesn't hugely touch on the "why" beyond the quoted last paragraph. My favourite analogy would be the impropriety of a sporting official turning up to a match in their favourite team's kit.
    – origimbo
    Oct 5 '21 at 16:21
  • @origimbo The UK doesn't have a formal constitutional distinction between executive, judicial and legislative branches of government as in the USA, but local government officers in the UK are administrators, not policy-makers or politicians.
    – alephzero
    Oct 5 '21 at 23:56
  • @alephzero That's exactly my point, they are interpreting and applying the rules rather than picking them.
    – origimbo
    Oct 6 '21 at 8:13

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