The Surrey Police and Crime Commission social media team were made to remove a graphic from Twitter, now X, and Facebook after a complaint it could influence the May 2 elections.

The post was made during the run-up to the election when public bodies are supposed to remain completely impartial to avoid favouring any one candidate or using taxpayer money to look to influence voters.

The message said it had re-opened funding for local services that promote community safety, support children and young people and help reduce reoffending in Surrey.

It was accompanied by an image that showed more than £2 million had been provided to support local services in the last financial year.

The complainant, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Bagshot and North Windlesham Richard Wilson, felt this was a breach of pre-election publicity rules.

Writing to the Monitoring Officer, he said: “Any reasonable person would conclude that the post, in particular its use of the graphics, is likely to improve the electorate’s opinion of the incumbent PCC (Police and Crime Commissioner).

“This constitutes a breach of the guidance and, therefore, of the rules laid out in the Acts. 

“It would be possible to direct readers to the funding website without publicising the £2m which has already been provided. 

“This piece of information is wholly unnecessary and its purpose is clearly to promote the PCC.

“This is a use of public resources to influence an election.”

After receiving the complaint, Alison Bolton, chief executive and monitoring officer of the Police and Crime Commission, told the communication team to delete the images but felt the text was fine to be republished – and did not merit an apology.

Media policies had been reviewed ahead of the pre-election period and the use of social media and their website has been “significantly” limited, she added.

The posts were scheduled, she said, as the funding process opened on April 1 and they wanted to give organisations the greatest amount of time possible to apply.  

She said: “Your view that the posts are “likely to improve the electorate’s opinion of the incumbent PCC” is arguably a subjective one.

“I can assure you that the posts were made in good faith by comms colleagues with the intention of promoting a funding opportunity and not, as you suggest, to “promote the PCC”.  

“We had purposefully not made reference to the incumbent PCC or included any images of her.

“That said, I recognise that the aim of promoting the funds could have been achieved with a simpler post and as such, I have asked my colleagues to remove the posts that include the ‘graphic’.  We will re-issue the link, but I don’t believe that issuing an apology is necessary.”

A spokesperson for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner said it restricted its output to some “business-as-usual work” in line with pre-election guidelines.

They said: “On April 3, the Communications Team posted a message on social media highlighting the process for which organisations and services can apply to our funding streams which opened for the new financial year two days earlier on April 1.

“These streams provide vital support for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities including victims of crime, young people and domestic abuse survivors as well as funding important projects that enhance community safety across Surrey. 

“Allocating these funds and commissioning these important services is a significant role that the OPCC undertakes and we wanted to give local organisations the greatest amount of time possible to apply.  

“The message posted did not name or reference the current PCC or contain any image of her.

“However, the message did have an accompanying graphic which highlighted the amount of funding the office had provided to support local services during the last financial year.

“The post was created in good faith with the intention of promoting the funding opportunity and was not designed to promote the current Commissioner.

“However upon review by the OPCC Monitoring Officer, the decision was taken to remove the graphic and replace it with one that had removed the reference to the amount of funding given last year to avoid any inference during the pre-election period. 

“The current commissioner was not aware and did not have any involvement in the creation of the original message.:

The elections for the Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner take place countywide on Thursday May 2. Counting takes place the following day with the results expected around 2pm.

The vote takes place across Surrey with the count taking place the following day with the result expected to be announced between 3pm and 4pm.

The list of candidates:

  • CHINN, Kate (address in Surrey Police Area) – Labour Party
  • COLEY, Alex Foy (address in Surrey Police Area) – Independent
  • KENNEDY, Paul (address in Surrey Police Area) – Liberal Democrat
  • TOWNSEND, Lisa (address in Surrey Police Area) – Conservative Candidate – More Police, Safer Streets