Newspaper Society’s win divides councils

PROs working within local government have given a mixed reception to the Newspaper Society’s victory in ensuring changes to the Local Government Bill.

PROs working within local government have given a mixed reception

to the Newspaper Society’s victory in ensuring changes to the Local

Government Bill.



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

alike.



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

decision-making process.



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

adviser.



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

authorities.



Leader, p8.



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