Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was in combative form when he spoke at the London Councils annual summit on Saturday. Asked about a publication produced by Croydon Council, Pickles said: "I've just banned those kind of newspapers being produced."
What surprised some councillors at the summit is that the consultation over proposals to limit the scope of council publications is not due to end until today (November 10).
In a reply to a question about freesheets not reaching all residents, Pickles said: "There are some very good newspapers being put out by local authorities. It was not the quality that I was worried about. It was this, if I am passing power down to local authorities I really don't think it is a good idea to snuff out local opposition and scrutiny.
"I think it is is important to have vibrant local newspapers in order for you to be more accountable. To me, the kind of problem I faced when I looked at one particular set of London [council] newspapers was that they talked about them being the 'local independent voice'.
"Clearly, if you are funded by the local council you are not the local independent voice . What we need is the voice of independent local newspapers bringing you to account."
Pickles told councillors at the summit to "grow up, stop being hysterical and get on with providing decent services."
He also took a swipe at Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee for describing the proposed cap on housing benefits as the "final solution." Pickles said this was "insulting, irresponsible and extreme."
Pickles has denounced council newspapers as 'Town Hall Pravdas' and backed the claims of the Newspaper Society that they undermine the local press by competing for advertising and readers.
The consultation document on the proposals to limit the scope of council publications and provide a new code of practice states: "To give effect to the Government’s commitment to stop unfair competition by local authority newspapers, the proposed Code will contain specific guidance on the frequency, content and appearance of local authority newspapers or magazines.
"They must not appear more frequently than once a quarter, must only include material that is directly related to the business, services or amenities of the authority or other local service providers and should be clearly marked as being published by the local authority. These provisions also extend to web-based editions of publications."
- The proposals are contained in this document Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity: Consultation.
- You can hear Pickles speech to the London Councils summit here.