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

Conclusions and recommendations

Unfair competition?

1.  Very scant evidence has been presented to this inquiry, and to previous inquiries, which would sustain the claim that local authority publications have contributed significantly to the decline of local newspaper advertising revenues or sales. There do appear to be isolated examples of where there may be a local relationship between the development of a local authority publication and the decline of a commercial publication, but these examples are extremely limited. There is no evidence of a widespread problem of unfair competition on this basis. (Paragraph 44)

2.  However, there is a clear concern that some local authorities are using council taxpayers' money to promote their local politicians or policies. While there is clearly a case for individual politicians and parties to state their position on particular issues, this should be at their own expense. It is appropriate that the proposed Code should prevent such activities being undertaken at taxpayers' expense. (Paragraph 45)


3.  We are satisfied that it is appropriate to produce a Code to regulate the production of local authority publicity. However, we are concerned that some of the changes proposed in the revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity run counter to 'localist' principles and have potentially negative implications for local democracy. (Paragraph 53)


4.  We consider the issue of "propaganda" to be dealt with adequately by the provisions in the proposed Code relating to format and content. The evidence suggests that a local authority's need to communicate information to residents is commonly satisfied by no more than quarterly publication. We have doubts, however, about the need to specify a maximum frequency of publication within the Code and question whether such a prescription sits well alongside a strong commitment to localism. We would nevertheless expect councils to abide by the principles of cost-effectiveness contained within the Code. (Paragraph 58)

Statutory notices

5.  We consider it unsatisfactory that local authorities should feel compelled to produce fortnightly newssheets simply to meet the demands of statutory notice requirements. We recommend that the Government review the publication requirements for statutory notices, with a view to making them more cost-effective and better able to take advantage of new means of publication such as the Internet. (Paragraph 66)


6.  We are persuaded that the issue of the use of public money on political lobbying is an important one which central government needs to address. However, we are not persuaded that a code of practice on local authority publicity is the correct tool by which to apply constraints upon such activity. It is far from clear that the powers under which the Secretary of State may promulgate the code are sufficient to bring this issue with its remit; such a measure may therefore prove ineffective. (Paragraph 73)

7.  Nonetheless, we agree with the Minister that the hiring of political lobbyists by local authority to contact Ministers and Members of Parliament is a waste of public money (Paragraph 74)

8.  We recommend that the Government work with representative organisations for all tiers of local government, with UKPAC and with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Local Public Services Group to develop a Code of Practice for local authorities on the use of lobbyists. Such a Code should ensure close adherence to best practice and detailed attention to cost effectiveness by all councils. (Paragraph 75)

9.  We also consider that any future code of practice addressing the use of 'lobbyists' will need to clarify more precisely than current proposals where the use of consultants to give appropriate short term expert advice (or the employment of short term contractors to fill key technical or professional vacancies) will remain a legitimate course of action for a local authority. This code should also specify that the cost of hiring any such expertise be published, clearly identified, so that councillors and local electors can make a clear choice about whether such expenditure represents good value for money. (Paragraph 76)


10.  If the Secretary of State continues to believe that publication of any local authority newssheet more frequently than quarterly poses a significant threat to the local press, a much stronger evidence base is required to justify the inclusion of any such restriction in the proposed Code. Although the evidence suggests that a quarterly, or less frequent, publication will usually be sufficient to meet a local authority's need to communicate with residents, we doubt that it is necessary to specify a maximum frequency of publication within the Code. Before setting any replacement for the existing codes before Parliament, we recommend that the Secretary of State follow through a recommendation made by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the last Parliament. That is, that he commission an independent review to assess competition in the local media market and quantify the impact of council publications on commercial entities operating in their locale. (Paragraph 80)

11.  To prevent the excesses described by the Minister whilst allowing sufficient freedom to local authorities to hire in relevant specialist expertise when necessary, we suggest a better approach would entail work by the Government with representative organisations for all tiers of local government, with UKPAC and with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Local Public Services Group to develop a new code of practice to more tightly govern the use of lobbyists by councils. (Paragraph 85)

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