Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has drawn up plans to 'name and shame' 59 councils that use consultancies, dubbed this week by Pickles as an 'outrageous waste of taxpayers' cash'.
PRWeek has learned he will criticise Norfolk and Devon county councils and the County Councils Network for using Bellenden Public Affairs. Surrey County Council is named for its use of Grayling and Sunderland City Council is listed for using Weber Shandwick.
Bell Pottinger chief Lord Bell dubbed Pickles' comments 'opposed to freedom of speech'. The former PR adviser to Margaret Thatcher added: 'It's a load of sweeping generalisations that have no great merit when you look at them case by case.
'It's the same old issue of someone condemning everything when they should just condemn some of it. I don't understand the rhetoric they use. I hate these generalisations.'
Other agency and public sector figures expressed similar views. Weber Shandwick chairman of UK corporate comms and public affairs Jon McLeod said: 'For ministers to stifle the voice of local communities is laced with irony, especially when many local councils' campaigns have been to prevent central government-inspired waste.'
Referring to his agency's work, which has been outed by Pickles, Bellenden managing director Mark Glover said: 'We probably save them thousands of pounds worth of money.'
A Local Government Association spokesman said: 'Local authorities only use public affairs agencies to win government support for major projects that are of vital importance to their residents.'
PICKLES SPEAKS OUT
'We are calling time on the scandalous practice of government lobbying government. It is an outrageous waste of taxpayers' cash and contributed towards the corrosive culture of spin that Labour cultivated'
'Cutting this pointless practice should help councils protect frontline services. We are keen to maintain an open dialogue. However, this can be done by simply picking up the phone'.