CLG 'tighten' council publicity

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Council publications should only be published up to four times a year and should not directly compete with the local press, according to draft government proposals published this month.

It also states content should only include material directly related to council services, without attempting to influence opinion, and be clearly identified as local authority branded material.
In addition, the guidance says councils should not spend taxpayers’ money to lobby government through private sector lobbyists or through publicity stalls at party conferences.
According to the CLG the new principles will "make sure" council publicity is "lawful, cost effective, objective, even handed and appropriate".

The restrictions have been proposed under a draft revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity with the consultation outlining new proposals to tighten up the publicity rules for councils so they guard against campaigning with public funds.
On making the announcement, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles said: "An independent local press is an essential part of our open democracy helping local people scrutinise and hold elected councillors to account.

“The rules around council publicity have been too weak for too long allowing public money to be spent on frivolous town hall propaganda papers that have left many local newspapers looking over the abyss - weakening our free press - or to use ‘hired-gun’ lobbyists that operate in the shadows to bulldoze special interests through.

"The proposals I am publishing today will close off these inappropriate practices and make sure that councils focus taxpayers’ money on where it should be spent - protecting frontline services.”

Polly Rance, Vice Chair of the CIPR Local Public Services Committee, said:” The Government's plans will massively restrict the way councils can communicate with their residents, and will end up costing councils more money in publicity and advertising, not least by forcing councils to hand huge sums of taxpayers money over to local newspapers for statutory notices.  In deprived areas where internet connectivity is low, regular printed communications are important to reach the vulnerable residents who most heavily rely on services. The government claims to have a localist agenda but this shows a total disregard for the needs of local communities, and in the end will do nothing to protect the newspaper industry from its overall decline.'”
While agreeing that local authorities want to see a successful and vibrant local media LGcomms Chair, David Holdstock, says the plans would not solve the long term problems that local newspapers were facing.

"While there are some notable exceptions around the country, many local papers have been under funded, under staffed and under resourced for a generation at least. As a result, people do not see their local papers reflecting their daily lives and so they turn to other sources," he said.

Posted on 19th October 2010