Polly Rance: Limiting local government mags is absurd

Just before Christmas, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee launched an enquiry into the Government's proposed changes to council publicity rules.

Polly Rance: Whitehall should not dictate
Polly Rance: Whitehall should not dictate
The most controversial proposal, which has been much debated in PRWeek and beyond, is to restrict councils from publishing any kind of newsletter, magazine or newspaper for residents any more than four times a year.  

Opponents of the proposal have said that it makes a mockery of the Coalition’s claims to localism.
 
CLG minister Grant Shapps appeared before the committee to defend the Government’s position. Brandishing a copy of Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper, he appealed on behalf of the residents of that borough that they should be saved from having their council tax wasted in this outrageous fashion.  
 
The minister overlooked a vital point. If the people of Greenwich, or anywhere else, feel sufficiently aggrieved by their local authority, they can take action at the ballot box.

That is what makes the relationship between councils and citizens unique, and why communications with residents are so important. There is a direct democratic contract at the heart of local government: councillors are elected to oversee the provision of local services and set local priorities, and to be accountable they must be able to inform residents and consult with them about service changes or matters of local importance.

It is our job, as communicators, to help them to do that effectively, to ensure that citizens have access to services, and that they have effective channels through which their voices can be heard.

It is our job to understand the diverse communities we serve, and know the best ways to reach them. It is also our duty as public servants to find the best value for money ways of doing this.
 
Much of what councils have to communicate is fairly prosaic; information about bins, compost, rats, potholes, traffic calming, swimming pools, parks, planning and social care. None of this is front page news, unless something goes horribly wrong, but it is the stuff of people’s everyday lives.

It seems absurd that the nature and frequency of such local information should be dictated from Whitehall and I hope that the Select Committee will recommend an amendment to the Government’s proposals.
 
Polly Rance, vice-chair CIPR Local Public Services Committee

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