Public Sector: Nottingham council rapped over biased publicity

Nottingham City Council has been criticised by a district auditor for using 'illegal' publicity material during 1999/2000.

The Local Government Act (LGA) states that local authorities have a duty to promote the benefits of their district, but must not promote party political activity. While councils must be informative, they cannot be persuasive, and the law has been criticised in the past for being ambiguous.

The district auditor John Gregory examined a complaint made by an opposition councillor that in 1999/2000 Labour councillors were given undue prominence in press releases and material in Arrow, the council's newsletter for residents.

The auditor ruled that the council had spent £13,000 on 'illegal' publicity material.

But he also said that council PROs has misinterpreted guidance on publicity, something the council has since addressed by providing special training for its PROs, said current head of PR Caroline Shutter.

'Councillors are expected to provide community leadership, making it important that lead councillors are visible to the public and thereby accountable,' said council CEO Gordon Mitchell. 'We'll involve the district auditor in talks to draw up a protocol that sets out when councillors should be quoted and featured in materials produced by the council, as the law is unclear,'

The Local Government Association acting director of comms and strategy John Ransford said parliamentary advice is frequently open to interpretation.

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