New proposals to stop taxpayers’ money being squandered on town hall propaganda newspapers or shadowy ‘hired-gun’ lobbyists were announced by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today.
In recent years there has been a major growth in the frequency and scope of council publicity techniques that use taxpayers’ money whilst local papers have struggled in a saturated news environment. A consultation published today outlines new proposals to tighten up the publicity rules for councils so they guard against campaigning with public funds. Mr Pickles has previously raised concerns over such practices pledging to rewrite the rule book.
Today’s proposals include specific rules to stop municipal newspapers being published more that four times a year and to prevent the hiring of lobbying contractors. As a result councils would be able to redirect resources into protecting front line services.
Mr Pickles emphasised that he believed the underlying assumption should be that all council publicity was clearly branded material and only sought to explain services, without attempting to influence opinion, in a value for money way.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles says:
"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.”
The revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity includes proposals for seven new central principles that will make sure council publicity is lawful, cost effective, objective, even handed, appropriate, has regard to equality and diversity and is issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity.
In particular the new rules reinforce what ‘appropriate use of publicity’ means in relation to council news and use of lobbyists:
- Councils should not publish newspapers in direct competition to local press. They must not appear more than quarterly and should only include material directly related to council services.
- Councils should not use taxpayers money to lobby government either through private sector company lobbyists including publicity stalls at party conferences.