On Monday 6 December, the Union gave evidence to the Communities and Local Government select committee at parliament. In September 2010 Eric Pickles MP the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government published a consultation paper setting our a revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity. These proposals sought to constrain the appearance, content and frequency of newspapers published by local authorities.
The inquiry examined whether the seven principles set out in the Code of Recommended Practice encompassed the full scope of guidance required by local authorities. It also considered other so called ‘key issues’ which the new Code seeks to address, including whether it will curb the inappropriate use of lobbyists (what’s that to do with council newspapers?) and stop so called unfair competition by local authority newspapers.
Last month the Union had submitted written evidence to the Secretary of State and on Monday Jeremy Dear appeared before the committee, along with Lynne Anderson, Communications Director, The Newspaper Society, Simon Edgley Managing Director Trinity Mirror Southern, and Professor Roy Greenslade, City University, London and media commentator/blogger.
From the NUJ point of view it went rather well. The media companies profiting from printing and distributing many council newspapers was nicely exposed by Jeremy (thanks to our members for supplying the information). We had a well prepared brief and it showed. Also the loss of adverting revenue complained of had little to do with council newspapers but the decline in advertisements for properties and motor vehicles – a direct result of the recession. Jeremy also pointed to the closing down of local titles and the poor coverage by many local newspapers of council business, which had forced a number of council’s to ‘fill the information gap’.
The idea from government of limiting council publications to 4 per year (a proposal in the Code) is clearly nonsense and was dealt with quite well in an earlier session with elected members from Hackney, Jules Piper the Mayor, Richard Kemp from Liverpool and John Findlay, Chief Executive, of the National Association of Local Councils, which represents the interests of town and parish councils. They all agreed that four time a year was too infrequent to keep in serious touch with residents and councils would have to resort to other forms of publicity – leaflets, paid advertisements, etc, which would prove far more costly and less efficient.
I would have thought that local authorities were in the best position to determine their own publicity strategies depending on local circumstances. Whatever became of ‘localism’ so much spoken of by the Con-Dems?! However, whatever the outcome, the massive cut backs in council spending being forced on them by government, is quite likely to result in cuts in the frequency of local council newspapers and job losses amongst our members regardless of whatever Pickles says.