Council’s freesheet east End Life could be scrapped under new rules
NEW rules to stop taxpayers’ money being spent on town hall newspapers or hired lobbyists have been put before Parliament, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today.
The planned regulations could see an end to Tower Hamlets council’s weekly propaganda sheet East End Life.
The Department for Communities and Local Governmentsaid that in recent years there has been a marked growth in the frequency and scope of council publicity techniques funded by taxpayers’ money, while local papers have struggled in a saturated news environment.
Mr Pickles has raised strong concerns over the frequency of council papers, politically contentious advertising and use of lobbyists, pledging to rewrite the rule book. He said he believes councils should redirect resources into protecting front line services.
The new ‘publicity code’ for English councils tightens up the rules to protect the use of taxpayers’ money being spent inappropriately.
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Following consultation it sets out specific rules to stop municipal newspapers being published more often than four times a year and to prevent the hiring of lobbyists.
Mr Pickles said: “An independent local press is an essential part of our open democracy and it is a vital part of local accountability, but the rules around council publicity have been too weak for too long squandering public funds and pushing local newspapers out into the abyss.
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“Some councils have pushed this to the limits and were effectively lobbying on the rates. The changes will end the weekly Town Hall freesheets, stop professional lobbyists being hired and make advertising guidelines crystal clear so councils know exactly when misuse of public funds is a breach of the code.
“Councils need to give due diligence to their communications operation and make sure every effort has been made to focus taxpayers’ money to where it should be spent - protecting frontline services.”
Under the new rules advertising should be balanced, factually accurate and not likely to be perceived by the public as a political statement or a commentary on contentious areas of public policy.
Councils should not publish newspapers in direct competition to local press. They should not appear more than quarterly and should only include material directly related to local services.
Councils should not spend taxpayers’ money to lobby government through private sector lobbyists or through publicity stalls at party conferences.
Tower Hamlets council’s freesheet is currently published weekly and includes TV listings, restaurant reviews and sport as well as local and council news.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman recently ordered a review of the paper and is inviting comments from East Enders.