Curbs on council lobbying and publicity spending
New rules that stop taxpayers’ money being squandered on ‘vanity PR’ have been issued ending weekly council newspapers and use of lobbyists Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has announced.
In recent years there has been a marked growth in the frequency and scope of council publicity techniques funded by taxpayers’ money, whilst local papers have struggled in a saturated news environment.
Mr Pickles has raised strong concerns over weekly ‘Town Hall Pravdas’, political adverts and use of lobbyists, pledging to rewrite the rule book. He believes councils should redirect resources into protecting front line services.
The new ‘publicity code’ for councils tightens up the rules to protect the use of taxpayers money being spent inappropriately. It sets out specific rules to stop municipal newspapers being published more often than four times a year and to prevent the hiring of lobbyists. It also states that advertising should be balanced, factually accurate and not likely to be perceived by the public as a political statement or a commentary on contentious areas of public policy.
"An independent local press is an essential part of our open democracy and it is a vital part of local accountability, but the rules around council publicity have been too weak for too long squandering public funds and pushing local newspapers out into the abyss.
“Some councils have pushed this to the limits and were effectively lobbying on the rates. The changes will bring the Town Hall Pravda printing presses to a grinding halt, stop professional lobbyists being hired and make it crystal clear that any blatant vanity PR or politicised advertising by councils using public funds is a breach of the code.
“Councils need to be give due diligence to their communications operation and make sure every effort has been made to focus taxpayers’ money to where it should be spent - protecting frontline services.”
The revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity includes seven new central principles that make sure that council publicity is lawful, cost effective, objective, even handed and appropriate, and that it has regard to equality and diversity and is issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity.
In particular, the new rules would define ‘appropriate use of publicity’ in relation to council newspapers and use of lobbyists:
- Councils should not publish newspapers in direct competition to local press. They should not appear more than quarterly and should only include material directly related to council services.
- Councils should not spend taxpayers’ money to lobby government through private sector lobbyists or through publicity stalls at party conferences.