The Localism Bill will move power from Whitehall to the town halls. But when it comes to the funds councils spend on publicity, Whitehall now wants to tighten its grip. The Communities and Local Government Parliamentary Committee argues that the proposed code of conduct on publicity is in direct conflict with localism.
The proposed code has been tailored to deal with concerns that some local authorities are using council tax payer’s money to promote their local politicians and policies. This is dubbed by Minister as ‘propaganda on the rates’. There is also an assertion that council publications are competing unfairly with independent papers. Finally there have been cases where political lobbyists have been hired by councils to contact Ministers and Members of Parliament.
The Committee argues that tight rules are not only overkill to deal with the issues, but they would also be harmful to the majority of councils.
In their report on Local Authority Publicity, MPs call on the Government to commission an independent inquiry to quantify the competitive impact of council newspapers on the independent press; to review the publication rules that apply to statutory notices; and to develop a separate code of practice to govern the use of lobbyists by local councils.