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Election Purdah. What is it for?

Published on 6 April 2010

Government departments sometimes seem to go into paralysis as soon as a General Election is announced. Civil servants take it very seriously, but for onlookers it can seem rather strange.

“Purdah” in the Civil Service is the period of days between the announcement of the General Election and the holding of it. There are a set of conventions which apply to government departments in this time window. These are overseen by the Cabinet Office.

In broad terms the things that, as a civil servant, you are not supposed to do during this time, include:

  • Any activity which could be criticised as using public resources for party political reasons.
  • Research involving taking the views of the general public or specific sections of it.
  • Commencing consultations.
  • Making other than factual comments about current government policy or decisions.
  • Providing new arguments for use in election campaign debates.
  • Making long-term decisions (unless postponement would not be beneficial in the national interest).
  • The problem for those of us keen to see progress in improving services to the customers of government departments is that a general paralysis seems to overtake departments, such as HMRC or the DWP. On past evidence of previous elections, no-one wants to take a chance of being criticised.

This means that good initiatives to improve the customer experience may get suspended or postponed.

We will see what happens this time, but we shall encourage all concerned to get on and do what is best for the customer.

Contact Name: John Andrews (Tel: 0844 579 6700 Fax 0844 579 6701)

(06-04-2010)

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