Newly independent councillors Ros Jump and Geraldine Mathieson have written to the Information Commissioner (IC) claiming they have “clear evidence” emails are examined and passed to senior councillors “for political purposes to discredit individuals who challenge their authority.”
In a letter last year Conservative group secretary Felicity Temple reminded a political activist “not to use the @eastriding.gov.uk addresses for political purposes”, as they are subject “to inspection not only by our staff” but also freedom of information requests.
The two Independents recently discovered personal email addresses had been removed from the council’s web page and replaced with the generic address. When they queried it, they were told it was “due to audit concerns.” The council has now reinstated the direct emails.
Coun Jump said: “One Friday about a year ago a chap sent an email saying he was committing suicide. The first I knew about it was a phone call from County Hall on the Monday. They shouldn’t have been reading the email - they should have been forwarding it on. It is a total betrayal of trust. We get some really personal emails about the state of people’s marriages, finances - people need to know who is going to read that information.”
Coun Mathieson said she sent an email to Democratic Services to make a declaration of interest which was forwarded to another councillor, and which was later used as part of evidence against her at a selection meeting.
East Riding Council said they were seeking clarification from the IC but claimed it was “common practice” in councils for staff “in Members’ Services to access council e-mail accounts belonging to councillors to assist them in their duties.”
However Hull councillor Terry Keal said he had “never known” of anyone else being able to read his emails. A spokesman for North East Lincolnshire Council said: “If you email a member, the member will get the email - there’s no filtering system in place.”