Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
Richard Kemp, Jules Pipe and John Findlay
6 December 2010
Good afternoon. We will make a start on this one-session inquiry
into the code of recommended practice on local authority publicity.
For the sake of our records, please say who you are and the organisations
that you represent.
Jules Pipe: My
name is Jules Pipe and I am the directly elected Mayor of Hackney
and also Chair of London Councils. Before I became Mayor of Hackney,
I started my career in local newspapers and ended it in newspapers
as a production journalist on two national broadsheet newspapers.
Richard Kemp: I
am Councillor Richard Kemp from Liverpool and I am Vice-Chair
of the Local Government Association.
John Findlay: I
am John Findlay, Chief Executive of the National Association of
Local Councils, which represents the 8,500 parish and town councils
You are most welcome. I understand that Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson,
Deputy Chair of the LGA, was due to be here but he has sustained
Richard Kemp: He
has a trapped nerve. I thought he had nerves of steel but apparently
Richard, you are here in his place. Let me start off with a very
difficult question. Do you think that the code as currently drafted,
which will require local authorities to behave in certain ways
with regard to their publicity, goes somewhat against the Government's
Richard Kemp: How
do I follow such an introduction, Chair? It would be almost exactly
the same as I would have said myself. It is surely hypocritical
for a Government to say that its priorities are localism, localism,
localism, and then try to define in a whole number of ways, including
this one, precisely how we should carry out our business. Most
councillors have a major desire to communicate effectively with
our constituents in our wards, our neighbourhoods and across the
council area as a whole. We do that on radio and television;
we email; we have websites; we blog, as do our councils. We even
tweet sometimes. Of course, we use the local press. We all have
a symbiotic relationship with our local press, but the latter
does not reach all the parts we need to reach as a local authority.
Therefore, sometimes we do things ourselves.
If you are all in agreement you do not have to add anything.
Jules Pipe: I am
in absolute agreement. Local council publications have been described
as town hall Pravdas, but in scope this diktat is worthy of North
Korea. Essentially, I think everyone can agree with much of the
code. There is one key sentence in it that is most objectionable
and is quite North Korean in scope. I refer to the sentence in
the middle of paragraph 28 that dictates that councils can only
communicate on a large scale with its residents four times a year.
That is the key problem for councils. That one sentence suggests
that CLG Ministers do not recognise the need or value of local
councils and their partners, hospitals, PCTs and voluntary and
community sector organisations, which also use the same publications.
It is clear that those Ministers do not value or recognise the
need or necessity of that communication.
John Findlay: I
would broadly agree, although I qualify it slightly by saying
that we very much support the principles set out in the code.
Nobody could really question them. I think the problem arises
in terms of application and scope. To be absolutely honest, I
think the scope of the proposal is very much aimed at principal
authorities. We as parish and town councils in particular have
a problem with the application of some of its provisions to our
sector. I certainly agree that we need to ensure that the localism
and big society agenda is carried forward and is not constrained
in any way by these proposals. I am worried to some extent that
the proposals could restrict on a practical level the achievement
of the big society agenda particularly on relatively minor things
about the frequency of publication. Many of our councils put
out a monthly newsletter. Some do it more often; they may do
a weekly website as a piece of information. We would not want
to see that restricted by a central direction.
Q5 Stephen Gilbert:
We have begun to touch on something that I would like to explore
a little further. You say that many local authorities put out
publications maybe once a month and in some cases more than that.
The proposal in the code is that that goes down to four times
a year. Can you explain why you do not feel that quarterly communication
would be sufficient to keep your electorates informed?
Jules Pipe: There
are two very good reasons. One is the need to communicate and
the second one is value for money. If the Committee bears with
me for just a moment, I would like to read a couple of sentences
that I think encapsulate the need to communicate. It quotes Matthew
Engel, who wrote recently in the Financial Times. He in
turn quoted Peregrine Worsthorne. Peregrine Worsthorne once posed
the question: "Which part of a newspaper was more truthful:
the news stories or the adverts?" He answered his own question
by saying: "In adverts for airlines, planes always land safely;
in news stories they crash. Adverts show happy families sitting
round the fire; in news stories the house burns down. Most planes
do not crash; most houses do not burn down, ergo adverts are more
There is something relevant there to local authority
publications. In local papers generally libraries only shut,
nurseries are only under threat and bins go unemptied, but the
reality is that services open, expand and change all the time.
Libraries open; nurseries introduce new services; bin rounds
change as more is collected through recycling. I have spent the
past five years moving £62 million worth of money from back-room
office and efficiency savings into the frontline, improving, changing
and expanding services while keeping the council tax frozen for
five years. Residents needed to be informed about all those changes
to services and that could not be done just once a quarter. Distributing
an additional leaflet to houses every time an individual service
changed for a particular area would be far too expensive. Local
newspapers won't and can't be expected to carry that volume of
information to local residents. My local newspaper, which is
no longer based in the boroughit is two local authorities
away in distance out in Essexnow sells only 8,000 copies
a week. They do not even qualify for ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation)
audited circulation, and that compares with the 100,000 copies
that we publish.
I think there is something relevant in that to the
Government's agenda as well because the big society was mentioned.
All sorts of Governments, Labour, Tory or coalition, always want
to use local Government as an administrative arm for delivering
their agenda. Whether by exhortation or by nudging, they want
to get their message out. Therefore, when Andrew Lansley wants
to do something on obesity or anti-smokingall those kinds
of thingsit will be done through the local NHS. Those
messages get out through local authority publications, not via
the local press.
I have one other quick point on value for money.
We are one of the authorities that puts its statutory notices
in its own newspaper. I have brought copies of one for the Committee.
The gross cost of putting a year's worth of statutory notices
in our local paper according to its rate cardthis organisation
does not discount its rate card for local authorities, because
we have checkedwould be £543,000. The gross costs
of producing 25 copies of our newspaper this yearI am not
trying to do any clever accounting by taking off any income from
adverts or anythingis £448,000. Therefore, if we
are forced to abandon our approachyou have to publish every
two weeks for it to qualify under the law to be able to run statutory
noticeswe will have to find several hundred thousand pounds'
worth of additional savings from other services so we can pay
the local newspaper to carry those rather than publish them in
our own newspaper. Therefore, certainly for us, the value for
money argument is absolutely clear: it will cost us several hundred
thousand pounds more if this code is implemented as is.
Richard Kemp: I
would add a couple of things to that. First, we have to listen
to what our constituents say. Probably what your constituents
say as well is, "We don't know what's going on. You don't
inform us enough. Why don't you tell us what you're doing?"
We try to do that in a whole variety of ways, but the fact is
that even the free news-sheets do not go out to more than a third
of my city. If we are not telling people, no one will tell them;
certainly people do not read the local papers more.
Second, if you want to establish a title and an understanding
by local people that that is something to read, you do it regularly
enough so that they recognise it and want to read it. You will
do this, Steve, with something called a Focus newsletter. Labour
have Labour Rose; I cannot remember what the Conservatives used.
But we use consistent messaging so that people say, "Oh,
that's the stuff about local news for my ward." If that
were done four times a year, no one would recognise it, so there
would be no continuity and it would be bad value for money, in
addition to the reasons Jules has given you.
John Findlay: I
suspect our context is slightly different because we are much
smaller and very local. Our task is to get the message out, as
my colleagues say, to all our constituents, but we are talking
here of neighbourhoods, villages, small towns, medium-sized market
towns and so on. It is therefore much easier for us to get the
message out to local people at very low cost, so we do not face
quite the same problems. I am sure we provide value for money.
If you talk to people on the street about their perception,
what they like and what interests them is what is local. Even
someone like me who takes a great interest in these things will
read things at county or district level with interest, but I know
that most of the people where I live want to know what is happening
in their localitywho has made an application for a supermarket
in a particular area and so on? These things will be covered
by my colleagues. But the most important thing is to make sure
that what do informs and engages, and that is best done at the
most local level.
Q6 Stephen Gilbert:
I have two quick follow-ons, one specifically to Mr Pipe.
Accepting your point that the truth in a newspaper is somewhere
between the editorial and the advertising, if I flicked through
Hackney Today I am not sure I would find one story that
is critical of the borough. It might give the impression that
nobody has ever made a complaint to Hackney Council and all services
are working fine. Do you think that reflects the reality of residents'
lives in Hackney?
Jules Pipe: It
is not meant to be reflective of the generality of life in Hackney;
that is the job of the local newspaper and the many websites and
blogsites that there are. There are numerous magazines in Hackney,
such as N16, which is distributed free throughout just
for the Stoke Newington area. There are many websites and blogsites
that are independent and therefore critical of the things that
the council does. Therefore, there are all these other avenues.
If we try to pass that off as an independent publicationbecause
it clearly says on the front "Produced by the Council"we
would have a hard job convincing anyone. If we added a few critical
letters that would not do the job either, because it would not
have any credibility. Therefore, it does not pretend to be an
Q7 Stephen Gilbert:
My point is that it is no more an accurate reflection than the
advertising/editorial balance that you talked about earlier.
To move on, you talked about the other available avenues. You
referred to blogs and websites in Hackney and obviously local
newspapers as well. In this day and age, why aren't websites
sufficient to promote these kinds of services and engage with
people in a much more cost-effective way?
Jules Pipe: I put
this directly to the Secretary of State, because it would take
away 50% of the argument that I am making today. The rest of
the argument about the need to communicate still stands, but the
financial argument would be removed at a stroke. I put this to
the Secretary of State, but he thought there needed to be a period
of grace to allow local newspapers to adjust because it is inevitable
that, if we did have to put this information on a website alone,
no council would pay its local newspaper the hundreds of thousands
of pounds it would cost to publish it. I would agree with your
Richard Kemp: I
suspect that in 10 years' time this might be a very different
argument. There are still lots of old people like me around who
like to read a newspaper. I do blog and go on the website, but
I like to pick up a paper and read it. Interestingly enough,
last year I was a member of a Home Office working group that commissioned
some research on the most effective way to communicate with people.
Louise Casey announced it to all and sundry. The best thing
to do, apparently, is to put it on a piece of paper and stick
it through someone's letterbox. I thought, "Well, that's
my last 42 years vindicated, isn't it?" That is the Government's
own research; that is how you communicate in the most cost-effective
Jules Pipe: And
there is a huge digital divide in communities like my own that
would mean that is the most effective way to communicate.
John Findlay: There
is also the simple human reaction: to go onto a website to look
at something requires a proactive step on the part of the individual,
whereas if something comes through the door, we all pick it up
and have a quick look at it, even if not for very long. Clearly,
website access and so on will develop further. We are particularly
interested in some of the ideas that have been developing, for
example Rory Stewart's idea about having local community TV, so
that when you switch on your TV to watch your favourite programme
there is also immediate access to what is going on in your neighbourhood,
village or town. That is something you can quickly look at. You
might catch the news headlines before you go to the main programme.
That may be a longer way forward. The problem with the proposals
before us is that they are not broad enough to address those sorts
Q8 Clive Efford:
How do the rules on content and frequency contained in the code
affect the cost-effectiveness of your publications?
Jules Pipe: It
wouldn't at all other than in terms of the frequency. We need
the fortnightly frequency to be able to carry the statutory notices
unless all the laws related to planning are changed. But we do
not do sports reports, TV listings or have property or motoring
sections; we do not take classified adverts, paid for advertorials,
or four-page wrap-arounds around the outside of things. We do
not do any of that. Our advertising space is more expensive than
that of a local newspaper. To go back to your question about
commercial competition with local newspapers, I do not see us
being in competition with them at all. Some local authority publications
do cross that line and that is a matter for them to justify, but
sitting here I do not seek to justify that. I am sitting here
trying to justify a publication that tries to get information
across to residents. I come back to an earlier point. Yes, it
does not say "on the one hand or on the other", but
there are other people saying "the other". We are saying
just what the council does and what it offers, and also what is
offered by our partners: the voluntary sector; health; police
and the rest.
Richard Kemp: We
have a regular need to communicate. Increasingly, that will make
us do even more "advertising" in our community. For
example, a Bill was published last week that gives us more power
over licensing, which means we have to communicate with people
more regularly. The Decentralisation and Localism Bill means
we will have to communicate more regularly over planning issues.
If we do not have regular budgeted newsletters that are cost-effective
in terms of delivery and production, we will spend a lot more
money on irregular communications, which will cost more to print
and organise than a regular stream of productions in which we
can deal with the big issues and can simply localise to meet the
needs of neighbourhoods, communities and wards. This will cost
local councils money in a variety of ways.
Q9 Clive Efford:
You say that your advertising space is more expensive than that
of commercial newspapers. Is that a matter of choice? What forces
Jules Pipe: It
is just the price that people are willing to pay for the greater
coverage. I can give a good example. In the copy that I handed
around there is a half-page advert from the local community college.
It will become one of the new university technical colleges.
Its deputy head of marketing says: "We like to advertise
our adult courses in Hackney Today as we get a good response
rate, better than when we advertised those same ASL courses in
the Hackney Gazette. The fact that it does go door to
door means that people are more likely to browse through it and,
therefore, see the adverts, whereas people who purposely pay for
the newspaper tend to focus on the news side." That is the
person who wants to place the ads, who is willing to pay the £807
for a half-page as opposed to the Hackney Gazette cost,
which was £475. In fact, they do both; they put that advert
in both the Hackney Gazette and Hackney Today, but
they feel that the reach to every household is more useful to
them as a local community college.
Q10 Clive Efford:
Is yours the only freely distributed door-to-door newspaper?
Jules Pipe: It
is the only one that covers the whole borough. There are other
magazines and newspapers delivered free through doors in the borough,
but they do not cover the entire borough.
Q11 Clive Efford:
So, the fees you charge are a commercial decision based on coverage?
Jules Pipe: It
is what it will bear. The key thing is that often the charge
is that local authorities undercut local newspapers with their
rates for classified ads, which we do not take, and display ads,
and put them out of business. My point is that the charge is
almost twice the rate of the local newspaper, so in no way can
it be said that we are somehow undercutting or commercially damaging
the local newspaper.
Q12 Clive Efford:
You said that the cost of statutory notices would be over half
a million a year if you were forced to cease publication fortnightly.
What other subsidies are there that you are allowed to provide
by making savings in producing your own newspaper?
Jules Pipe: Being
able to put all the different service changes that I have outlined
in one single publication, at a known cost for 36 pages a fortnight,
rather than doing it by individual newsletters, means huge savings.
I confess I do not have the figures. It would be hard to guesstimate
how many newsletters would be required; it would be quite a job
in itself to work out every different publication you would have
to produce instead of that. It would have to look very much like
a leaflet so we did not fall foul of the new code. But I would
have thought the cost would run to hundreds of thousands. I believe
someone made a rough estimate that it would probably cost about
£1 million instead of the £440,000 to do it in
a single newspaper.
Q13 Clive Efford:
What sort of surveys do you do of local people to determine whether
they are happy with it?
Jules Pipe: We
do readership surveys once a year. For example, the copy before
you has something in it about London and Hackney in bloom. Yes,
the council is heavily involved in that, so it is a legitimate
story to include in it, but that kind of story also gets added
just to make it attractive to read. Obviously, you want to encourage
people to read it. We do make sure that it is an attractive read
for people and that is why we do readership surveys rather than
just publish it in black and white and make it look something
like a copy of The Times from the 1890s. One of the key
things to come out of those surveys, and also came out in an independently
done survey commissioned by Ipsos MORI a couple of years ago,
is that people regard this as the main way in which they get their
local information. Also key was the fact that in the MORI survey
people were asked about their preferred method of receiving information.
They listed things like leaflets, local newspapers, the web and
everything. A paper produced regularly by the local authority
put through the door was far and away the most popular choice,
even more than door-to-door leaflets, which surprised me. One
might have guessed that a leaflet about an individual subject
might be their preference, but it was not; their preference was
for a general newspaper.
Q14 Clive Efford:
Mr Findlay, how do you believe the content and frequency rules
imposed by the code will affect the ability of local authorities
to promote and support the expansion of the big society?
John Findlay: For
our sector, town and parish councils, it is hugely important.
We are already required under the provisions of the quality parish
and town council arrangements to make quarterly communication
with every household in the area. Many of our councils, in some
areas most councils, do it far more frequently than that. It
is really important to us. I accept that we are a different kettle
of fish from my colleagues here. With the very local, close communities
that I am talking about, it is important to have something not
quarterly but something monthly, ideally weekly. If it were electronic,
you could do a weekly bulletin to every household about what is
going on. To repeat what I said before, people are interested
in what is happening locally on their patch, whether it is events
but also developments. If it is a planning question, we may see
more of that in the forthcoming Decentralisation and Localism
Bill, but all the things that are happening directly on their
patch that affect them personally are terribly important. From
our point of view, the most important thing to do is to have very
regular contact with communities to explain what is going on.
We are different from principal authorities in that respect.
I am sure they would like to do some of the things I am talking
about, but I am talking about something that is very local indeed
and where people would be receptive to having that sort of information.
To restrict that to quarterly news would be entirely inappropriate;
it really needs to be monthly or, ideally, weekly.
Q15 Mark Pawsey:
Perhaps I may return to the point raised earlier by Mr Pipe: the
role of statutory notices. The code of conduct currently obliges
local authorities to place these in newspapers and will continue
to do so. The LGA argued that is about £40 million
a year but it seems to me that if £548,000 is spent in Hackney
then the national figure must be rather larger than that. Is
that obligation an unfair burden on local authorities? Does it
contradict localism and the attempts by local Government to get
value for money, or, realising that the independent press is a
useful alternative to the council view that is coming through
from your newspapers, is it an effective and useful form of support
to local newspapers that they would not otherwise have and might
otherwise cause many of them to go out of business?
Jules Pipe: I would
answer a simple "yes" to all of your questions apart
from the last one, where I would question whether it is appropriate
for public money to be used to support private enterprise in that
way to keep local newspapers going. I would say, however, that
we are in effect helping them to keep going because it is the
local newspaper industry that prints our newspaper. We and about
seven different local authorities have a contract with the same
publisher who owns our local paid-for newspaper. They are the
ones receiving the income to print it, but they are not getting
the additional revenue for buying the advertising space. There
is a help to the industry there, but perhaps not as much as it
I would definitely dispute that such publications
are the cause of the demise of local newspapers. If you go back
20 years, the Hackney Gazette sold about 20,000 to 22,000
copies. Its decline was at a much faster rate for the first 10
years than it has been in the most immediate 10 years, and the
Hackney Today in this form has been going for less than 10
years. So, even before this publication, Hackney Gazette
suffered its worst decline in sales. I think that is because
there are alternatives; free things are put through the door;
there are many websites and blogs. People choose to get their
information in different ways now, and that is what dictates the
decline in local and national newspapers. Look at what people
are considering, like mini-Independents and smaller, more
compact newspapers, and the online market for those newspapers.
That is what changes things, not the publication of things like
Q16 Mark Pawsey:
And the local newspaper is not currently receiving your statutory
Jules Pipe: Not
Richard Kemp: But
we must also seriously look at what a statutory notice is. If
we take a statutory notice placed in the Daily Post in
Liverpool, we will do something about a road closure. Frankly,
we might as well stand on top of the Pier Head and chuck the money
away, because how many of my constituents will see a road closure
in the Daily Post or, for that matter, go through the classified
ads to see the bit in the Liverpool Echo? We ought to
be thinking very differently about how we communicate. The only
people who are interested in a very small road closure are those
who live in it and the two roads beyond. Why don't we send out
a special leaflet to them? Well, we do but we then put in a statutory
notice that no one reads.
We have to think about communications and how we
do it effectively. This will become particularly important with
the big society and the other changes. On the one hand the Government
says it wants to communicate more; on the other hand it says it
wants us to communicate less, unless it is on its terms. It does
not add up. If you look at the other side of it and how much
paid advertising from outside these newspapers have, with one
exception, which is the one that produces weekly and has all the
inserts to which Jules referred, the whole of our sector attracts
£1.2 million worth of advertising. Anyone who seriously
suggests that that will stop the decline in local newspapers is
living in cloud cuckoo land.
Jules Pipe: To
support what Richard has said, the back pages of our paper show
the madness of exactly what he was talking about. There are three
solid pages of notification of street closures, narrowings, yellow
lines and everything that we are obliged by law to put in. No
one is really interested in those. There are people who by postcode
will check what is going on in planning to see what is happening
locally. Also key is the one on licensing when people want to
know what licences are coming up for review. I know many people
who actively look for those, but not the three pages of traffic
notices about yellow lines and change to timings of CPZscontrolled
Q17 Mark Pawsey:
How about recruitment advertising? Is all of your recruitment
advertising through your own publication, or should you be casting
your net wider and using the media?
Jules Pipe: We
Q18 Mark Pawsey:
And how effective is your own publication in getting to your target
Jules Pipe: There
are a few jobs in our paper with the local authority, and sometimes
other local providers like the PCT, that are likely to be able
to be filled locally, and it would be desirable to fill them locally
to encourage local employment, but obviously if it was of significant
seniority it would be mad to fish only in the pool of our own
borough, so, yes, they all go into the appropriate places. We
tend not to do national newspapers but we do the professional
journals, for example, that are most likely to be read by senior
social workers or whatever.
Richard Kemp: One
of the gems of wisdom we got from Mr Pickles earlier this year
was that we should not advertise them at all; it should all just
be on our website, thus ignoring the fact we need to have a professional
reach outside. According to him, everything should go on the
website. That would just rule out large numbers of people who
do not have access to computers to get jobs with our councils.
John Findlay: I
agree that people need to know about planning application listswhether
they are in the local newspaper or whereverbut it is the
most dreadful way to do it. I am sure it is right, but nobody
actually reads them.
Civic societies read them.
Yes, but the population at large don't.
People need that information but they must be better ways to
deliver that. At the end of the day, this really should not be
a debate about what councils are doing and the extent to which
it should be restricted. It should be an opportunity to rethink
methods of engagement. It is not just about the council reporting
things; it is about feedback as well. We need to have mechanisms
that provide for dialogue and interchange between the community
and their council at whatever level. That is crucially important.
Q19 Mark Pawsey:
So, you are saying that the form of statutory notices needs to
be looked at? The principle in many cases is sensible, but it
is worded in a way that people do not understand it?
Richard Kemp: We
waste a fortune on things that people do not read.
Q20 Mark Pawsey:
But nevertheless it is useful, in your view?
Richard Kemp: Some
are more useful than others. Again, it is useful to list them
in a way that all the civic societies and professional societies
get them, but, in terms of informing people down the street, they
are probably useless. That comes back to the challenge to the
newspaper industry. We engage with the newspaper industry; we
all know that we provide them with stories; they provide us with
cover. There is a relationship between politicians, councils
and local newspapers, but they need to up their game. I talk
to councillor after councillor and find that no one from the local
paper comes to a full meeting of the council. Perhaps that is
because of our lack of oratory, but there are really serious issues
that they don't cover. They do not get the reach into all the
places that need them. We need to consider how we use them, but
they need to up their game and make better offers about the way
they scrutinise us, because they could do a lot better than they
do, and get out to the communities we need to talk to. If they
were more positive, we would perhaps be more positive towards
Jules Pipe: I agree
with everything Richard said, but even if they achieved that zenith,
they still would not cover all the information that we really
ought to get out there that many people find useful.
Q21 Bob Blackman:
One of the assertions that would probably be made if the Secretary
of State were sitting here posing these questions is that a large
amount of advertising that goes into council publications from
a wide range of public bodies, be it councils, statutory notices,
elements of the council, the health service and so on, deprives
local newspapers of, reportedly, £11 million a year in advertising
revenue. How would you counter that?
Richard Kemp: If
we put all our money into those local papers, in my own city at
least one third of the people would not see them at all. As a
council we have a duty to communicate with all our citizens.
In Liverpool the very poor areas do not get those newspapers because
the advertising is not worth taking to them, and the very rich
areas do not get them because the drives are too long to make
delivery of the free newspapers worthwhile. We can put all that
money in and still have to find other ways to communicatein
our case with at least one third of local people. Frankly, if
you look at our free newspaper, it has so little news that it
is more an advertising sheet than a newspaper anyway.
Q22 Bob Blackman:
Taking the case of Liverpool, do you as a council and do the other
public bodies advertise in the free newspapers?
Richard Kemp: Very
little. We choose not to take that route, so we do our statutory
Q23 Bob Blackman:
So, is it fair comment to say that, because you put this in your
council publication, you are depriving those commercial newspapers
of that advertising revenue?
Richard Kemp: No,
because we wouldn't use them for that purpose, because they don't
have the reach to get to people.
Q24 Bob Blackman:
You would not advertise at all?
Richard Kemp: We
produce a magazine, not a newspaper. It is full of information
that would not be an interesting story, so it would not attract
editorial. It might attract advertorialthat is what they
call itwhere we paid for advertising, but it still would
not get the reach we do and it would be more expensive.
Q25 Bob Blackman:
But presumably you could, perfectly reasonably, give it to a commercial
organisation and say, "Here is the stuff we want in; here
is the cost of it. You add to it what you wish," and they
could put out a new free newspaper throughout the city.
Richard Kemp: They
could choose to do that anyway. In our case it is the local free
newspaper that delivers our newspaper, but we pay them to go into
the areas they do not normally go to, so they could get a cheaper
newspaper because they'd get part of the delivery cost covered
if they did it with ours. They choose not to do so. Clearly,
there are commercial reasons for that. I do not criticise them
for making these commercial decisions, but we have a communications
responsibility that is different from theirs. Their job is to
sell newspapers, ours is to communicate with our citizens. Where
we can work with them we do; where we cannot, we have to find
Q26 Bob Blackman:
But clearly if that advertising was going into those newspapers,
and parts of the advertising going in was that there was the reach
into those areas, they would then have a commercial reason for
Richard Kemp: Again,
you have to consider what the readability is of these so-called
newspapers. The amount of attention they give to public service
is remote. I check this regularly. For example, Merseymart
for the past four electionsyou might think that is a fairly
important civic activityhas not even carried a list of
the local candidates. If you want us to pay a lot of money, change
their editorial and make sure there are lots of articles about
local Government, we might as well say, "Oh, he does that.
We might as well have a municipal newspaper," because we
would have to take over their service which, frankly, is quite
Jules Pipe: I would
add to that.
Q27 Bob Blackman:
I just want to ask one more thing. I think I am right in saying
that relatively few local authorities publish a newspaper every
Richard Kemp: I
think there are seven.
Bob Blackman: So, relatively
few do that.
Richard Kemp: One
does it weekly and six do it every two weeks.
Q28 Bob Blackman:
Perhaps I may ask this of you and Mr Findlay as well: if
the reins came off completely and you could publish as often as
you wanted, how often would councils publish such an organ, as
Richard Kemp: That
is what localism is all about, isn't it? The circumstances you
have heard from Hackney are very different from those in Liverpool
and those experienced by a town council. If you believe in localism
and accept that there is a need and duty on councils to communicate,
you must expect them to come up with a communications plan that
is right for their area and will include their own publications,
special leaflets, websites, blogsites and all the local existing
media, paid and unpaid. Therefore, what you should be looking
for is a competent communications plan with the public sector.
Certainly, this argument has been looked at only in terms of
councils. When I look at some of the really poor leaflets from
other parts of the public sector that come through my door, I
think we would do better for managing all the public sector together.
But what is the communications plan between the public sector
and our constituents? What you should do is look for the quality
of that and not ask us to dictate what should happen in each council
I am conscious of the time, so we need to keep responses reasonably
Jules Pipe: If
the issue about statutory notices was lifted, then I would certainly
review whether it was necessary to do it every two weeks, because
then it would purely be about the issues raised earlier about
whether it was frequent enough for people to recognise that that
is the information source, but that would not necessarily have
to be every two weeks.
John Findlay: It
is simply a matter of capacity. Our councils vary like any other
sector. Some are very good and some are not very good at doing
it. Those that are good at doing it, which we would encourage,
would love to put something out every week or two weeks to inform.
We are talking here about simple newsletters or maybe something
on a website, e-bulletins and things like that, which could be
done very frequently, but there are limits to capacity. I can
only reiterate that the key here is about getting maximum information
out to communities and then being able to respond to it.
Q30 David Heyes:
The Government is looking to use this code of practice to impose
a ban on the use of paid lobbyists by councils. Why do councils
need to use paid lobbyists?
Richard Kemp: They
might in specific circumstances. My council has never used a
paid lobbyist, but if for exampleI'm just thinking aloudI
were a council near Heathrow, I might have wanted to involve someone
from the aircraft or airport industry who knows more about it
than I would expect my staff to know. This is not done very often.
We can see from the Government's own figuresI cannot remember
now what they arethat this is another sledgehammer to crack
a nut. Sometimes you might need very specialist knowledge for
Jules Pipe: I totally
agree with Richard. We have never used them ourselves, but I
think that would be an example where it was legitimate.
Q31 David Heyes:
Is that John Findlay's view?
John Findlay: Our
councils do not use lobbyists; they cannot afford to use them.
It is important to distinguish between lobbyists and specialists.
Whether it is a small parish council or town council, if a new
housing estate is proposed, they may well get somebody in to look
at the transport, housing or retail shopping implications as part
of the case, but that is a very different matter. When we talk
here about lobbyists, we are talking about people who are commissioned
to present a case on a paid basis for a public authority.
Q32 David Heyes:
But is the suggested wording in the code of practice clear enough
for you to be able to make that distinction when you make your
John Findlay: Yes.
Q33 David Heyes:
To push it further, is the code of practice the right place to
seek this kind of control over lobbying?
John Findlay: If
I may comment first, in principle I agree with it. I admit that
the bit about lobbying in the proposed code sits uncomfortably.
It is a valid issue but I am not sure it is about local authority
publicity. It might be better addressed in a separate setting.
Q34 David Heyes:
Do your colleagues have a view on that?
Richard Kemp: Lobbying
is something councils do all the time. I am sure everyone who
is or has been a Minister is accustomed to people saying that
they are not given enough money and asking about this or that
law. It is what we do. Frankly, this has been cobbled together.
It was an idea about newspapers and it was thought that perhaps
a few more things should be put in. This is not a coherent document.
I find it very hard to take the document seriously, to be honest.
I have tried to keep a straight face, particularly with the Chair's
Can you give any example at all of the existing code being enforced
in any way?
Jules Pipe: That
would require someone to complain to the district auditor and
the latter intervening. No, I am not aware of an example where
that has happened.
Richard Kemp: By
and large, we do what is required by local circumstances. We
get on with it. I have never seen a complaint come in.
Jules Pipe: The
question I would ask of the Ministers behind this is: if we abide
by all the rest of the points in the code of conduct, why is the
restriction on frequency necessary?
Q36 Clive Efford:
I am lucky to get in Greenwich Time once a year and it
is published every week, so there is a restriction there that
is a self-denying ordinance by my colleagues on the council.
Are we talking about local newspapers or information sheets?
Jules Pipe: To
my mind, they should be local information sheets. I do think
they do effectively compete. Even if they carry all the rest
of it, I do not think they are responsible for the demise of local
newspapers. That aside, I do not think they should even look
like they are doing so and carrying that extra information.
But Hackney Today does look a bit like a newspaper.
Jules Pipe: It
is a newspaper in style; it is printed on newsprint admittedly,
but it does not carry all those things you would expect to see
in a local newspaper, from local sport to TV listings to classified
ads. None of those things are in there and never have been.
So, it is the content rather than the appearance that you believe
Jules Pipe: Yes;
it is about content.
Chair: Thank you all very