It also urges the Government not to relax statutory obligations to publish public notices in local newspapers.
Local newspaper editors and publishers across the UK have prepared submissions for the Department for Communities and Local Government consultation on the Local Authority Publicity Code which closed yesterday (Wednesday).
In its own submission, the NS endorses Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ assessment of the damaging effect of council publications and his conclusion that regulatory changes are necessary to avoid taxpayers’ money being wasted. It supports proposed restrictions on frequency of publication to quarterly, content focused on council matters and clear identification.
The NS called for new rules to be backed by effective enforcement and suggested a number of revisions to the draft Code to prevent local authorities getting round the restrictions and continuing to pursue print and online media services through third parties.
“The Code should also prevent any attempt to evade its restrictions through pursuit of indirect rather than direct controls over the publicity vehicle e.g. by way of partnerships or contract publishing or third party publication,” the submission states.
It adds: “The Code and our proposals would certainly not prevent local authorities from providing their communities with information relevant to them, the council and its work in any effective form. The NS has always made it clear that it has no complaint with the traditional type of non-competing council publication, such as an A-Z of council services, published two or three times a year… The NS and its members have also provided the Government with examples of local councils and local media working together on initiatives to inform and involve their local communities.”
The submission also outlines NS opposition to any move to remove statutory obligations to publish public notices in local newspapers, pointing out that this could result in important information becoming inaccessible to a large section of the UK population who do not have access to the internet.
“Recent research has shown that the vast majority of people in the UK rely on their local paper to keep them informed about local council plans and decisions and to allow them to make their voice heard on important issues which affect them. We hope that all local authorities will therefore be encouraged to use the local media, which remain the best-read and most trusted form of local news and information."
- Pickles seems to have already made up his mind. In a strong speech to the annual London Councils summit on Saturday he told councillors: "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."