No price on democratic rights

A letter to the Swindon Advertiser

What exactly does InSwindon think it is? The town centre’s political police? They don’t appear to even know what is on their own website. Under the page ‘for Business’ it refers to charges for leaflet distribution under two pieces of legislation, the 1990 Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. However, it states quite clearly that “The legislation does not apply to the distribution of free literature

  • By or on behalf of a charity…

  • Where the distribution is for political purposes

  • Where the distribution is for the purpose of a religion or belief.”

Material distributed by a campaigning organisation such as Keep Our NHS Public certainly qualifies as “distribution for political purposes”. So why is InSwindon harassing this organisation?

Personally, I have been involved in many activities in the town centre over 30 years. In all that time the organisations I have been campaigning with have never been charged for what is a fundamental democratic right, the right to distribute leaflets and talk to people in what is a public space. Indeed even InSwindon in their comments to the Advertiser admit it is a public space.

Some InSwindon jobsworth has occasionally tried to tell us that we have to get their permission. I have even known the police called once. But they rightly did not want to get involved.

Campaigning organisations should neither have to pay to use their democratic rights nor ask the permission of a private company to hand out literature in a public space. Since Swindon Borough council has a representative sitting on the Board of InSwindon, maybe it’s time they called this company to order.

The very idea that campaigning organisations should have to pay for the exercise of their democratic rights is an affront to democracy. Leafleting should not be in the gift of a private company.

Martin Wicks

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