PROs working within local government have given a mixed reception
to the Newspaper Society’s victory in ensuring changes to the Local
The publishers’ association for the UK’s regional and local press has
successfully campaigned for a change to the legislation which will
require council meetings to be open to the media and the public
James Flynn, communications head at Southwark Council and a spokesperson
for the IPR’s local government group, said the IPR supported openness
and transparency, and stressed the importance of access to the
Flynn also pointed out that a privacy clause would have gone against the
grain of the Government’s modernisation agenda, which aims to make the
council process more userfriendly and encourage local people to engage
in the democratic process.
The Government’s amendments, which are to be tabled at report stage in
the House of Commons, ensure that ’cabinet’ style meetings cannot be
held behind closed doors when taking key decisions, whereas earlier
draft regulations stated that the executive could meet either in public
or in private at its own discretion.
’The Newspaper Society welcomes these amendments, which reportedly
ensure these meetings cannot be held behind closed doors when taking key
decisions,’ said Catherine Courtney, the Newspaper Society’s legal
The Government, however, has acknowledged that some councils, already
adopting a cabinet style, are not operating in the spirit of openness it
had hoped for.
Whatever the final amendments to the Bill, councils will have to work
hard to promote an image of openness. ’It’s not a good idea to have a
privacy clause. Our cabinet at Southwark is open to the media, and our
press office works very closely with the cabinet to improve levels of
transparency,’ Flynn said.
But some PR practitioners view the Bill’s amendments more cynically.
’The reality is that political groups meet separately and privately
beforehand, so come the public meeting all the important decisions have
already been made anyway. I don’t believe that things will operate any
differently under the proposed cabinet system,’ says Charles St George,
director of the PPS Group which advises companies on dealing with local