Moves towards the updating of the local government publicity code have been welcomed by the Local Government Information Unit, which has been pressing an easing of restrictions on council officers and elected members. It said the government’s promise to look again at the code could improve accountability and help councils communicate effectively with local people.
An LGIU parliamentary briefing had argued that councillors’ activities were being constrained by the code of recommended practice on local government publicity, which it branded outdated and restrictive. The briefing said past experience showed that there was a high level of uncertainty among local authority communications staff and lawyers who advise on the code, and differences in interpretation that led to levels of caution that could undermine good communications.
The LGIU has been pressing for changes to the Local Government and Public Health Bill. The shadow minister for Communities and Local Government, Lord Dixon-Smith moved an amendment to the Bill that would effectively repeal the code of practice, which was a generation old. “The code of practice was devised in those days to be somewhat restrictive, but the whole process of how councils work as a consequence of a raft of legislation has made them much more flexible. It has got to the point when the code of practice in this field is too restrictive and it would be very useful if it could be relaxed,” he said.
The Parliamentary under secretary for Communities and Local Government, Baroness Andrews, agreed and said the Government would maintain consistency through a national code while thinking about what really needed to be in it and exploring suggestions from Local Government for how it might be updated. “We will think about how it could be simplified or clarified to support new roles such as advocacy, for example. We are ready to consult local authorities before issuing any new code, and about what form that might take,” she said.