Proposed Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

2  About the code

23.  A 'code of recommended practice on local authority publicity'—setting guidelines about the content, style and distribution of such materials—was first introduced in 1988 under the Local Government Act 1986.[27] It was amended subsequently in 2001.[28] Under section 4(1) of the same legislation local authorities are required "to have regard to" the provisions of such a code in coming to any decision on publicity.

247.  Section 6 of the Local Government Act 1986 Act defines publicity as "any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public". The code therefore applies to all decisions by local authorities relating to paid advertising and leaflet campaigns, the publication of free newspapers or newssheets and the maintenance of websites, including the hosting of material created by third parties.

Proposed revisions

25.  As the Government's consultation paper published in September 2010 states, "The Coalition Agreement, Our Programme for Government, contains a commitment "to impose tougher rules to stop unfair competition by local authority newspapers'." [29] Likewise, the stated underlying objective of the revised code "is to ensure proper use of public funds for publicity".

26.  The introductory notes to that consultation paper also state that the Secretary of State believes "the existing rules on local authority publicity have resulted in taxpayers' money being wasted and the free press being undermined". The same notes add: "The Secretary of State considers that, over time, commercial newspapers should expect less state advertising as more information is syndicated online for free, but at the same time the free press should not face competition from a local authority publication passing itself off as a newspaper".

27.  Seeking to restructure the existing codes, the revised code groups guidance under seven principles that require local authority publicity to be lawful; cost effective; even handed; objective; appropriate; issued with care during periods of heightened political sensitivity; and showing regard to equality and diversity.

28.  In pursuit of these principles, the revised Code sets specific rules about the appearance, content, frequency and branding of local authority newspaper or magazines:

  • Local authorities should not publish newsletters, newssheets or similar communications which seek to emulate commercial newspapers in style or content;
  • Such periodicals should not be issued more than quarterly;
  • Such periodicals (along with their web editions) must only include material that is directly related to the business, service or amenities of the authority concerned or other local service providers; and
  • Such titles should be clearly marked as published by a local authority.

29.  In addition, and somewhat beyond the scope of any previous code or revision, the proposed new code includes a section that is designed to prohibit the use of lobbyists. Specifically, clause 26 states that "Local Authorities should not incur any expenditure in retaining the service of private specialists, contractors or consultants ("Lobbyists") with the intention of the publication of any material designed to influence public officials, Members of Parliament, political parties or the Government to take a particular view on any issue".

27   DoE Circular 20/88. Back

28   DETR Circular 06/2001. Back

29   Condoc, para 2. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 February 2011