SOLIHULL MP Julian Knight is facing criticism over his ‘media policy’ of only responding to ‘specific media requests’ in 72 hours.
Opponents, constituents and this newspaper have challenged him over why it is taking him so long to respond to questions on important matters affecting readers – in the age of 21st century rolling news media.
They have also pointed out he has an office paid by the public purse – including staff for media responses.
He declined to respond before publication for our front page story last week on the Solihull schools’ funding ‘crisis’, concerning an open letter sent to him by 15 concerned headteachers.
As our front page reported, a member of Mr Knight’s team instead told us: “Our media policy is to publish general press releases on the website and provide responses to specific media requests within 72 hours. I will have answers to your questions on Friday.”
Those responses to us eventually came after last week’s deadline – nearly 72 hours after we put questions to him.
Mr Knight’s handling of the matter was in stark contrast with Meriden MP Dame Caroline Spelman, who quickly responded and pledged to renew her support for increased schools’ funding.
It was despite her being a key protagonist during last week’s Brexit votes in Parliament.
We later asked Mr Knight how he could justify such a policy given the pace of 21st Century media – especially with his taxpayer-funded support staff.
Solihull Green Councillor Max McLoughlin said on Twitter in response to our front page: “I admit that I struggle to respond to some requests within 72 hours.
“Nobody is perfect. I try my best. The big difference, I’m working on my own. I have no staff.
“Julian Knight MP has staffing costs in the region of £100,000.
“I know Brexit is important. But so are school cuts.”
In response to our story, Green Councillor Tim Hodgson tweeted: “That’s a disgrace – they’re having a pay rise too to nearly £80,000!”
Twitter user Tricia Bliss, Shirley Labour branch secretary, said: “He keeps banging on about his career in journalism, so I don’t believe for a second that he has no appreciation of the need for timely responses to meet publishing deadlines.
“He’s too busy joking about Brexit…”
The Solihull Labour Party tweeted: “He has been too busy trying to push the UK out of the EU, even without a deal that can command support in Parliament and the damage that will cause, to get involved in fighting for fair funding for our schools.”
Mr Knight responded to us four days later with the following: “Constituents always come first, and my office makes full use of social media to keep local residents informed. Thousands of people stay up-to-date with my work via Facebook and my regular e-newsletter. All my press releases are posted directly on my website too, and people are always welcome to follow me on Twitter!
“Unfortunately my work as a member of the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Select committee, on top of my responsibilities as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Government’s Treasury team, mean that I am not always available to provide an immediate response to specific media enquiries.
“Our promise to respond within 72 hours, which has been in operation since November without any complaints, ensures that I am able to offer reliable and even-handed treatment to all such requests, and offers both sides the certainty of a full and accurate response.”