UK News

Note: This is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

The UK’s 2024 general election campaign is in full swing, meaning our political processes are subject to stricter ‘pre-election period’ rules.

Party leaders are hitting the campaign trail, you’re getting leaflets through your letterbox, and candidates are debating proposed legislation on live TV debates. And, crucially, they’re all facing much more scrutiny on what they’re saying and doing — because a level playing field is essential to the integrity of our elections.

Parliament is empty right now, so you’d be forgiven for thinking things are the same for the Cabinet Office, civil servants, local councillors, and government departments. However, this simply isn’t the case! The day-to-day running of the country can’t just be put on hold for 5 weeks. For them, it’s business as usual, with a few important caveats.

So, are you up to scratch with what those caveats are? Wondering whether you’re allowed to put out that new policy consultation on a crucial local issue? If not, don’t fret — this guide will explain everything you need to know. We’ll cover the pre-election codes of practice, conventions, and what it all means in practice for your public engagement activities.

The Importance of Government Transparency: Rules for Public Engagement


Government transparency is essential for building public trust in our democratic institutions.

A key concept that underpins this is open data — the idea that government-produced materials should be freely available to everyone, so citizens can understand how decisions are made and hold their elected officials accountable. Open data is the reason why public consultations should inform at the point of response and present information in an accessible format for readers.

During the pre-election period, the imperative for government transparency is amplified. Every decision is under the microscope of journalists, the Electoral Commission, Returning Officers and Monitoring Officers. That’s not to mention ordinary citizens, who also need to have full confidence that public resources are being used responsibly and that decisions are not being made for political gain.

As such, local authorities must be particularly diligent in upholding the following standards during pre-election times:

The Local Government Act 1986 & The 2024 Election

The Local Government Act 1986 is a cornerstone of local government conduct. Section 2, in particular, is especially relevant during elections as it prohibits local authorities from producing material designed to affect public support for any political party. 

In practice, during the 2024 pre-election period, this means you should avoid:

  • Publishing articles or press releases that explicitly endorse a candidate or criticise their opponents.
  • Using council resources to create campaign materials for any party or candidate.
  • Announcing new policies or initiatives timed to influence voters just before an election. 

The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity 2011

Next up,  the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity 2011 outlines seven consultation principles that local authorities are encouraged to follow when interacting with the public. All council-led engagements should:

  1. Be lawful
  2. Be cost effective
  3. Be objective
  4. Be even-handed
  5. Be appropriate
  6. Have regard to equality and diversity
  7. Be issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity

In essence, the code is telling councils to stick to purely factual information whenever they perform a policy consultation or engage with citizens. Pandering to one side of a public debate, even implicitly, is forbidden. And while everyday council business continues during pre-election times, local authorities should most certainly avoid:

  • Launching new, non-essential campaigns or any policy consultation that could be seen as politically motivated.
  • Using contentious language or imagery that could be perceived as favouring one side of a political debate.
  • Giving disproportionate coverage or attention to a specific candidate or party in council communications.

Local Government Transparency Code 2015

Launched even more recently, the Local Government Transparency Code 2015 mandates that local authorities keep accurate records and publish a wide range of data, including:

  • All spending over £500
  • Local service performance indicators
  • Information about major private-sector contracts

Again, compliance with this law is essential year-round, but local authorities are more likely to face the watchful eye of regulatory bodies during pre-election periods. It’s more important than ever for local authorities to:

  • Ensure all information required by the code is readily available and easy for the public to find and understand.
  • Update data regularly and accurately to reflect current council policy consultations and spending.
  • Proactively communicate the availability of this information through council websites, social media, and other channels.

Potential Changes In Stakeholder Engagement

community group gathered to discuss local initative

Given the heightened scrutiny, it’s a given that local authorities and other stakeholders will take a more cautious approach to public engagement this pre-election cycle. However, that doesn’t mean you should simply abstain from the policy consultation process entirely — as analysis from residents is the most targeted, informative feedback you’ll ever collect.

What’s most important is that local authorities carefully consider the nature and timing of engagement activities to avoid any perception of bias or undue influence.

Here’s a quick guide to staying on the right side of the line:

Proceed with caution:

Existing engagements: Government consultations on non-controversial topics, such as recycling services or social care, are generally safe to continue. It’s hard to define when a topic becomes controversial, but as a rule of thumb, the LGA recommends following the “is it reasonable?” test.

  • Case study: If an ongoing consultation focuses on a new park development that has become a point of contention between candidates, it’s best to pause policy analysis until after the election to avoid even the appearance of bias.

New engagements: Routine policy consultations, such as gathering feedback on planning applications, can usually proceed as planned. So too can statutory consultations on topics like local budgets. However, launching a new consultation outside of this scope is risky and requires a sensitivity check —especially if it centres on a talking point in the election itself.

  • Case study: A council is about to consult the public on a traffic calming scheme, but a general election is suddenly called. One candidate strongly supports the policy, but another opposes it due to resident concerns. Proceeding with the consultation would be a no-go, because it could easily inflame public opinion and hijack the election conversation.

Avoid altogether:

Anything overtly political: You must not publish any material that references a particular party, manifesto policy, or candidate — including photos of political figures or excessive references to party colours/imagery.

  • Case Study: Imagine a local authority is communicating about an ongoing planning policy consultation. While they can certainly share factual updates with the public, it would be inappropriate to include quotes from candidates praising or criticising specific proposals, even if bipartisan.

Anything that could be misconstrued as using public funds for political gain: For example, local authorities can’t help organise national political visits, nor should they provide materials to political groups unless they can be sure they won’t be used for campaigning purposes.

Finally, it’s important to remember that local authorities are still responsible for serving their communities during the pre-election period. You are absolutely allowed to counter misinformation — particularly if it concerns dangerous, discriminatory, or illegal activity. When in doubt, always seek advice from your Returning Officer, Monitoring Officer, or legal and communications teams.

Running an Online Policy Consultation During the Pre-Election Period 2024

woman sat at desk with laptop open to Citizen Space page

The bottom line is: election periods are a tricky time to launch any kind of policy consultation.

If you get the timing or the topic wrong, your carefully crafted messaging could get hijacked by campaign rhetoric, distorted by misinformation, or weaponised by those looking to score political points. Instead of constructive dialogue, it could undermine trust in both the consultation process and the council itself.

However, this should not translate into a complete standstill in engagement activities. Councils play an ever-present role in public services, and they always need to a) keep residents informed, and b) listen to their valuable feedback.

So, please don’t shy away from launching online consultations for this 2024 election! The rules for engagement are largely the same as during non-election periods, bar a few key exceptions that we’ve covered. You just need to be more vigilant — if you think a public policy or issue could be inappropriate to consult on, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution. As for consultations that are already underway or those on less controversial topics, make sure you’re following best practices for building an effective consultation process.

General elections don’t come around too often, but when they do, we see an uptick in public interest in the political process. This is good news: your community consultations are likely to receive higher volumes of responses and healthy debate. Why not make the most of this enthusiasm and encourage its growth in the post-election period? The consultation that you decided to pause today could be the perfect opportunity for discussion on the 5th July.