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Move to end public notices in press slated by Secretary of State

PUBLISHED: 19:11 19 January 2009 | UPDATED: 13:58 05 October 2010

A TOP Government figure has attacked proposals to scrap regulations so that local authorities will no longer have to advertise public notices in the local press. Ending the legal statutory requirement would lead to more secretive local government, it is feared. Now Schools State Secretary Ed Balls has come out against changes he says would undermine the free press

By Mike Brooke

A TOP Government figure has attacked proposals to scrap regulations so that local authorities will no longer have to advertise public notices in the local press.

Ending the legal statutory requirement would lead to more secretive local government, it is feared.

Schools State Secretary Ed Balls has come out against changing regulations which would open the way for town halls to snatch back £15 million of advertising revenue from local newspapers—a practice already carried out at Tower Hamlets in East London.

That could lead to town halls becoming more secretive and eventually becoming the only source of local news and information, with the current economic climate threatening newspaper closures through loss of revenue.

A growing trend is emerging for councils to set up their own giveaway newspapers and posting public notices on their own controlled websites, like Tower Hamlets.

This would take away newspaper revenue from the local press, the Newspaper Society representing regional publishers has highlighted.

A report in November by Essex County Council’s chief executive Joanna Killian and Barratt Developments’ former group chief David Pretty recommended removing the mandatory requirement to save £15m and give town halls “more flexibility in engaging with their communities.”

But Ed Balls told a conference of regional press journalists: “It is vital for the identity and inspirations of communities that local newspapers are strong and flourish.

“Any decisions which actively undermine local newspapers would be retrograde. It would not be sensible to have any strategy which actively damages them.”

The local press provided a vital service, he added, and the strong message from the Government was that ministers are supporting the regional media.

The Newspaper Society fears more secretive and less open government if the mandatory requirement is removed for local authorities to publish statutory notices in newspapers.

The society says in a statement: “It is possible to imagine a council might find it advantageous to post certain controversial notices on an obscure part of its website, away from the public gaze.

“This would lead to many grassroots issues being decided without consultation and debate.”

Tower Hamlets was among the first local authorities in the country to go down the road of setting up its own weekly freesheet, which is distributed to more than 70,000 premises in the East End, where it posted its own public notices instead of the local press.


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