After a lengthy period of consultation, Secretary of State for Communities and local government Eric Pickles has today revealed the revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity, with his main proposals intact.
The rules are currently only recommended, but the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) hopes to make them statutory by April.
Pickles said the existing rules had been ‘too weak for too long, squandering public funds and pushing local newspapers out into the abyss’, and has banned municipal newspapers from being published more often than four times a year, while preventing councils from hiring lobbyists.
The rules also stipulate that council advertising should not be politicised or commentary on 'contentious areas of public policy'.
‘Some councils have pushed this to the limits and were effectively lobbying on the rates,’ said Pickles. ‘The changes I have put into force today will bring the town hall pravda printing presses to a grinding halt, stop professional lobbyists being hired and make it crystal clear that any blatant vanity PR or politicised advertising by councils using public funds is a breach of the code.’
The rules come despite a Commons' Communities and Local Government Select Committee report last month that criticised the Government's proposals to curb the publication of council newspapers, while suggesting that a code of practice is not the ‘correct tool by which to apply constraints’ on the hiring of political lobbyists.
The news is likely to be greeted with dismay by local government communicators. Last month, vice-chair of the CIPR Local Public Services Committee Polly Rance dubbed the plans to limit publications ‘absurd’.
DCLG’s revised code includes seven new central principles aimed at making council publicity ‘lawful, cost effective, objective, even handed and appropriate, and that it has regard to equality and diversity and is issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity’.