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