Pickled Politics Could Be Council Newspaper’s Undoing

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced proposals to tighten up the publicity rules for councils so they guard against campaigning with public funds 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.

“An independent local press is an essential part of our open democracy helping local people scrutinise and hold elected councillors to account.”

The new consultation proposes rules to stop municipal newspapers being published more than four times a year and to end the hiring of lobbying contractors. They also give more transparency and certainty to local authorities and political parties about conference stalls rules, for example, by distinguishing between the promotion of a local area for tourism purposes and the taxpayer-funded lobbying of politicians.

“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.”

“I agree with the Secretary of State that public money should not be used to fund lobbyists- Councillors should be the people fighting for their area and grabbing the attention of Westminster Politicians.

“Pickles, however, is well wide of the mark on Council publications. They provide a valuable service to residents and should complement traditional media rather than hindering it. They not only provide a medium for communicating messages to communities about their council but also help to make the whole council process open and transparent. Since it was first created in November 2007 the city council’s own publication Our City has been published 17 times and has provided valuable updates and information to every resident and business in the city. The publication is highly regarded and has received two awards and a further commendation in the last three years.””¬”ª

It’s About Trusting The Folks

By Public Servant Magazine

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles explains how the coalition government is setting out to rebalance power and make localism a reality

A friend of mine, a former Congressman from Wisconsin, once said: “If you don’t like the folks, don’t be in our business.” When politics becomes the preserve of people who are only interested in power, the political system starts to break down. That’s what we’ve seen in the past 13 years.

The previous government didn’t like the folks. It didn’t trust them. It always believed it knew best. It left local government toothless, community groups out in the cold and residents powerless to change anything.

The result was that voting rates plummeted, especially at local government elections. There’s no point in voting for someone who can’t change anything. There was no room for creativity or innovation in public services. You followed rules and ticked boxes. And the money followed the power, so London and the South East grew at the expense of everywhere else.

When people ask me about my priorities in government, I tell them we have three: localism, localism and localism. Because if you want to restore faith in politics, you make sure that local government is properly accountable to voters. If you want to rebuild a fragile national economy, you don’t strangle business with red tape and let bloated regional bodies make the decisions. If you want people to feel they have a stake in the future of their communities, you give them a say over what happens there.

So we are determined to rebalance power; wrest control away from bureaucrats, quangos and central departments and push it as far from Whitehall as possible. This is going to fundamentally change the nature of the constitution. It won’t be in a single action or law. It will be through dramatic actions and incremental changes. Localism is the principle that defines everything we do.

You might think all governments talk like this.
But we’re doing it. Already we’ve:
“¢ Made HIPS history and the number of homes being put up for sale has gone up by 35 per cent.
“¢ Given a lifeline to thousands of businesses in ports that had huge backdated business rates hanging over them.
“¢ Scrapped top-down housing targets and regional spatial strategies. Soon I will be announcing the full list of incentives to local authorities that will encourage development.
“¢ Put an end to unwanted “garden grabbing”, putting decisions back in local hands.
“¢ Cut ring-fencing and red tape attached to hundreds of millions pounds worth of central government grants.

Everything the coalition changed has been about giving up control, restoring the balance of power. By the time the Localism Bill is introduced later this year, we’ll have made a start to localism becoming reality. The Bill will give voters more power over local government and local spending. It will free up local government from central control, and will continue to put the community in charge of how their area develops.

What does all of this mean for those working in local government? First, if localism is going to have an effect, local government has got to be ready to seize the opportunities coming your way. Don’t wait around for us to tell you what to do. Already there are a number of councils who are stepping up: Windsor and Maidenhead, Essex, Leicestershire, North Yorkshire and Kent, to name just a few. All councils need to follow their lead and flex their muscles.

Second, localism isn’t just about giving power back to local government. It’s not a tug of war between the two of us. It’s even more important that we push power onwards, closer to people. We want to make sure people can take control and take responsibility in their street, their estate, their town. With neighbourhoods, people working together, as the basis for the big society.

There has never been a better time to be involved in local government. No one working in local government signed up to be told what to do for the rest of their lives by Whitehall. There is a real opportunity for councillors today to have far more fulfilling, rewarding careers; exercising genuine choice; changing the face of neighbourhoods.

We’ve set the scene for the most radical shake-up of power for a generation. Be in no doubt, the revolution starts here.

219 jobs created in Stoke on Trent for care workers

Jobseekers in Stoke on Trent have received a colossal boost following news of a £1.4 million cash injection for social care training in the area.

Acacia Destiny, the non profit-making arm of the Acacia Group, one of the UK’s leading training providers, won the contract to deliver part of the Government’s Future Jobs Fund programme recently.

The scheme, delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions in partnership with the department for Communities and Local Government and Jobcentre Plus, will run from January 2010 to March 2011.

Anne Littleton, managing director for the company said, ‘Clearly it is fantastic news that we have been awarded the contract, it’s testament to the thorough work that our staff and training departments do to constantly improve the services that we provide. However, it is vital that we continue to improve standards of social care for the wellbeing of those that rely on us. This new scheme will do just that which is even more gratifying from our perspective.’

Aimed at 18 ““ 24 year olds who have been unemployed and claiming jobseekers allowance for at least six months (in some cases people aged 25 with similar circumstances will be considered), participants will gain an NVQ level 2 in health and social care.

In addition they will automatically qualify for the newly launched Acacia Academy which guarantees a six-month position in paid employment.

Paul Hellyer, spokesperson for the DWP, commented, ‘Acacia demonstrated it was able to deliver a high quality of training in an efficient manner. Its experience in dealing in the sector is valuable and it is certainly a gain for Staffordshire to have this type of expertise on the doorstep.’

Anyone interested in participating in the Future Jobs Fund scheme should get in touch with their local Job Centre or use the link below.