From Tuesday, March 26, Reading Borough Council (RBC) will be less willing to give its views or provide statements about big issues in their area.

In election years, the rules for what local authorities can and can’t do become stricter.

Around six weeks before polling day, councils go into purdah – meaning they are restricted in what they can and cannot say or do.

RBC holds local elections in three out of every four years, with a third of councillors up for election in each year.

This year is an election year, with polling day on May 2. There will also be a by-election in Thames ward as Cllr Ed Hopper has stood down.

Purdah will apply to all six local authorities in Berkshire this year (Reading, West Berks, Wokingham, Bracknell Forest, Windsor and Maidenhead), as well as many – but not all – town and parish councils across the region.

The term ‘purdah’ comes from the Urdu or Persian word for ‘veil’ or ‘curtain’.

In Muslim or Hindu societies, it referred to the practice of screening women from men or strangers, often involving a curtain or women being covered in certain garments.

Its modern usage refers to the pre-election period, usually around six weeks before polling day – in Reading, it begins on March 26, the latest possible start date this year.

You can think of it as local government ‘screening itself’ from controversy, by not taking certain decisions or publishing statements which could influence voters.

Between March 26 and the polls closing on May 2, RBC will not be able to make any decisions which could influence or prejudice the outcome of either their own elections or others taking place at the same time.

This includes announcing any new spending, launching new strategies or publishing any form of new policy that had not been agreed before the purdah period began.

In short, if a ‘reasonable’ person could conclude that public money was being spent to influence the outcome of the election through a given action, then a council cannot do said action.

The Local Government Association has produced an exhaustive list of what councils definitively cannot do during purdah.

It includes:

Producing publicity on matters which are politically controversial (for instance, issuing statements about Brexit)

Making references to individual politicians or groups in press releases (for instance, giving someone who is standing for a particular ward credit for a particular policy which affects that area)

Arranging proactive media or events involving candidates

Issuing photographs which include candidates

Supplying council photographs or other materials to councillors or political group staff (unless they have been confirmed as not being for campaigning purposes)

Hosting third party blogs or e-communications on their websites

Helping with national political visits, as this would involve using public money to support a particular candidate or party. These visits must be organised and paid for entirely by the political parties themselves

If a council is already running an ongoing campaign (e.g. trying to recruit more foster carers) or has a public consultation already under way (e.g. on developments sites within its Local Plan), it does not have to suspend these if doing so would lead to public money being wasted.

If, however, the subject of this consultation or campaign becomes a matter of debate in the election campaign, then it can be suspended or deferred.

No new consultations can be launched during purdah, unless the council has a statutory duty to do so, and the findings of consultations cannot be published until after the election.

Normal council activities will still go on during this period e.g. bin collections, street cleaning, fines and planning permission decision making.

Councils can publish factual information in response to ‘misleading, controversial or extreme’ statements being made – for instance, racist or sexist information, or correcting statistical information.

During the pre-election period, statements of this kind may be made by senior officers rather than elected members.

In an emergency situation – something that is beyond the council’s control – there is some flexibility for elected politicians to issue a response to the situation.

However, in these circumstances, a council leader may issue a joint statement agreed with the leaders of other party groups as a precaution.

During purdah, councils can continue to make and publish decisions on more routine matters, such as planning applications or licensing applications.

So if you’re trying to get permission to build a house or change the times when you can serve alcohol in your pub, you won’t have to wait until after the election is over to get a decision one way or the other.

Public meetings will still take place to discuss these matters, and where decisions are delegated to officers these must still be published on the councils’ websites.

And of course, you’ll probably hear a lot more from the people wanting to represent you, whether through leaflets, conversations on your doorstep or public hustings which may be taking place in your area.

How much you choose to engage with your local candidates, in whichever way, is entirely up to you.

To make sure you’re registered to vote in the elections on May 2, go to