Council PR body questions code

Council PR officers are calling for greater freedom to represent opposition views and comment on issues not directly related to council functions.

Council PR officers are calling for greater freedom to represent

opposition views and comment on issues not directly related to council

functions.



The Society of County and Unitary Public Relations Officers (SCUPRO),

which represents 90 of the largest councils in Britain, wants the Code

of Practice on Local Authority Publicity to be changed because it will

prevent PR officers from carrying out their duties when new local

government legislation is introduced.



The legislation, which affects the structure and role of councils, is

currently in the shape of a draft bill, and is expected to come into

force early next year.



It provides for elected mayors, and the division of executive and

scrutiny roles within councils. It also encourages councils to act as

community leaders and champions, challenging other public and private

service providers, such as police and utilities, on behalf of

citizens.



In practice, the code prevents PR officers from representing opposition

views. They are obliged to represent the views of the council and not of

political parties, but in effect this means that only the leading

party’s view can be publicised.



SCUPRO argues that, once the changes are introduced, scrutiny committees

could be led by opposition parties, and elected mayors may be of a

different political persuasion from the majority party on the council.

The society points out that their views will need to be represented.



The code also prohibits councils from publicising subjects that do not

directly relate to council functions.



SCUPRO chairman Peter Berry said: ’On issues such as crime and health,

we’ll be putting forward joint statements, doing joint campaigning with

the police and health authorities. It would be wrong for one party to be

constrained by a code and the others not to be.’



The local government code was made law in 1988. Other public sector

services such as the police and fire services do not have legally

binding codes.



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