The Government has hit out at the 'indefensible' practice of councils publicising themselves at party conferences, as it emerged a coalition of 11 local authorities is using Freshwater UK to boost its profile during conference season.
Leeds City Region, which represents Leeds City Council and North Yorkshire County Council among others, is paying £6,000 to Freshwater to 'provide for the organisation of successful fringe events at the autumn party conferences and to prepare a short strategy for engaging the new government'.
Local government minister Grant Shapps has attacked such contracts ahead of the Conservative Party conference, which starts on Sunday.
He said: 'We have been clear that the practice of government lobbying government is indefensible and not a prudent use of public money.'
The news comes as the Department for Communities and Local Government prepares to launch a revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity.
'We are setting out clear rules banning councils using taxpayers' cash to lobby government and this includes publicity stalls at conferences,' Shapps said. He also called for councils to disclose how much taxpayers' money is being spent on overall comms.
But Leeds City Council head of regional policy Rob Norreys defended the body's contract with Freshwater. 'It's down to capacity,' he said. 'We've got a small core team that works on all policy, strategy and programme development. In reality, organising a presence at three party conferences, we needed someone to bring extra capacity to do the work. It's labour intensive.'
Leeds City Region will host an event entitled 'Local Enterprise Partnerships and Localism' at the Conservative Party Conference next Monday, after similar events at the other two major parties' conferences.
Councils should not use taxpayers' money to lobby government either through private sector companies or lobbyists
Councils should not publish newspapers in competition with local press. They must not appear more than quarterly
Council magazines should not be put out in the run-up to elections and should only publish statements of fact.