Local government PROs fear new conduct code

Proposed changes to the code of conduct for local government PROs may not go far enough to protect their professionalism, fear watchdog and industry bodies.

Proposed changes to the code of conduct for local government PROs may not go far enough to protect their professionalism, fear watchdog and industry bodies.

Their concerns follow publication of a draft revision of the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity by the Government.

Ministers at the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) have acted after fears the present governance does not take into account changes brought about by the Local Government Act 2000.

The act introduced new democratic structures such as directly elected mayors, cabinets and scrutiny committees.

Such changes are seen as offering a major opportunity to promote local government to the community and greater use of the internet.

But it has also led to fears the act rendered the existing code redundant, and exposed PROs to exploitation by local government officials - especially during local elections.

The Society of County and Unitary Public Relations Officers, SCUPRO, and the Local Government Information Unit, LGIU, have been leading the charge to bring the code up to date.

'While we welcome the revised code of conduct we remain concerned that it has not adequately addressed issues such as the scrutiny/executive split which need to be clarified to ensure that local government has a professional and effective public relations function,' said James Odling-Smee, LGIU head of communications.

He added that creating an effective communications service around the new structures will be 'a real challenge as this is new territory for both PROs and politicians'.

SCUPRO made a successful plea to the Commons/Lords select committee on the draft Local Government Bill for the publicity code to be updated last March, submitting a model replacement code to assist DETR civil servants preparing the draft code for consultation.

The Government accepted the case for a revamped publicity code and issued a draft version in the House of Commons last week.

SCUPRO chair Georgina Stanton, also Essex County Council head of communications, said: 'There is a lot of anxiety out there, and although the draft goes someway to bringing the code up to date, we are urging members to look at our website (scupro.org.uk) to study proposed changes, and give their views.'

A DETR spokeswoman said the draft code was still in the consultation stage with ministers and PR representatives.

Leader, p8.



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