Knife crime. Deaths in childbirth. Flammable cladding on tower blocks. All urgent subjects – so why has the government been sat on reports about them for weeks?
The answer is purdah – the same excuse that will be given to any journalist calling a government department or local council this week to ask for information about pretty much anything.
It’s a long-standing political tradition that forbids civil servants – who must remain politically neutral at work – from making statements or publishing reports that could be advantageous to one party or another in the run up to an election.
The practice was introduced to keep the civil service out of political disputes, but it’s actually pretty controversial in its own right.
Every time an election is called, a whole host of government bodies rightly or wrongly end up letting a stack of reports stagnate for weeks. Some, like the ones you’re about to read about, are matters of life and death.
Barrister Lord David Anderson told HuffPost UK: ”The failure to publish statistical releases and independent reports during election periods is not justified by the need to maintain civil service impartiality.
“There are many problems with our electoral system, but a surfeit of accurate and up-to-date information is not one of them.”
Maternal Deaths Report
On Wednesday The Times reported that a women’s rights charity is threatening to sue NHS England for blocking the publication of research into deaths in childbirth.
The annual University of Oxford study was due to be published this month but its authors have been told it will be delayed due to purdah.
The charity Birthrights has said the delay is putting lives at risk, as it also made recommendations to improve maternity care for mothers with heart disease that now cannot be implemented.
Amy Gibbs, chief executive of Birthrights, told HuffPost UK: “We dispute the grounds for delaying publication due to pre-election ‘purdah’ rules. This is about saving lives, not party politics.
“We believe the purdah guidance has been unlawfully misinterpreted, because the NPEU is an independent body and it does not apply to the publication of routine reports.
″[The report] is an impartial, annual and independent report designed to improve standards in care and prevent women from dying in pregnancy and childbirth.”
Russia Interference Report
A major report examining Russian influence in British politics will not be published until after the election.
Critics argue the Conservative government is “sitting on the report” because of fears it could damage its prospects at the polls.
Earlier this month, the Times claimed that nine Russian business people who gave money to the Tory Party are named in the report in what is the first major leak from the publication.
It forced government ministers on to the back foot and to blame the “machinery of government” for the delay.
Jennifer Arcuri Announcement Paused
The independent police watchdog’s probe into Boris Johnson’s relationship with American entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, and whether she enjoyed preferential treatment while he was mayor, has been delayed until after the election.
The Observer reported Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) officials agreed to pause an announcement on whether they were going to investigate “possible criminality” over allegations about a conflict of interest with the US businesswoman.
The £56bn scheme to bring high-speed railways to the north of England and Midlands has been suspended until after the election.
According to The Telegraph, Lord Berkeley, who was deputy chairman of the panel commissioned by the Boris Johnson to review the scheme, said their report was now due to be “locked into the Department for Transport vaults” and published by the next government.
A decision on whether Huawei should be allowed into the UK’s 5G network infrastructure has been deferred to the next government.
Culture secretary Nicky Morgan confirmed the decision, as part of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, would now be made after the general election on December 12.
The company has come under scrutiny over allegations of close ties to the Chinese state, with some critics arguing its telecoms equipment could be used to spy on people in the west, PA Media reports.
Huawei has always denied the allegations against it, insisting it abides by the laws of each country in which it is present.
The education watchdog Ofsted has delayed its annual report because of the election purdah.
It report reveals how the watchdog has performed over the year, and could have been particularly problematic since Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens have all committed to abolishing the body.
Knife Crime Report
The British Youth Council’s youth select committee was in November expected to publish its report into the wave of knife crime, but has now delayed its publication to the new year over fears of being “indirectly drawn into political campaigning”.
Last month, the Office for National Statistics revealed knife crime in England and Wales hit a record high in the last year, up by 7% on the previous 12 months.
Police-recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument rose to 44,076.
Second Grenfell Report
The election date of December 12 comes at a crucial time for the Grenfell inquiry. Phase one of the report, which examined the response to the disaster on the night of June 14, 2017, was published at the end of October.
But hearings to inform phase two, which looks at the circumstances that led up to the fire, do not begin until January 27 next year.
Many consider the second stage of the probe to be the most important, examining how building regulations permitted highly flammable cladding to be fitted to the west London towerblock.