LGcommunications is ready to act after Pickles said he was planning to consult on changes to the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity, which was relaxed in 2001 to allow councils to print newspapers.
The group’s secretary Alex Aiken said: ‘LGcommunications will mount a major lobbying campaign to prove the value of council publicity.
‘We are concerned that the majority are being misrepresented by a small number of council publications.’
Writing on The Guardian website on 26 June, Pickles had said: ‘Councils should spend less time and money on weekly town hall Pravdas that end up in the bin and focus more on frontline services such as regular rubbish collections.’
He outlined changes to the code to ‘stop unfair competition, to ensure a tougher value for money test, and council PR passing itself off as independent journalism’.
The Society of Editors welcomed the news. Director Bob Satchwell said: ‘This is the new politics working, good news indeed. This is an important decision for local democracy.’
But senior figures at LGcomms stressed that less than five per cent of all titles were published fortnightly or weekly.
How I see it
We welcome the Government’s moves to clarify the rules, but warn that it will not solve the problems of local newspapers.
We want newspaper groups to flourish, but they would need to substantially improve their coverage of local life in many areas to win lost readers.
These rules are aimed at a minority of largely London- based council newspapers, perhaps six in total, out of nearly 350 local authorities producing regular publications.
The vast majority of council publications coexist peacefully with commercial newspapers and do a great job in telling their local communities how they can make the best use of local public services.