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Eric Pickles Takes Action To Defend The Independent Free Press


Five councils have a fortnight to explain Publicity Code breaches before the Secretary of State issues legal directions


Published on 18 April 2014



by The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP

(WireNews)

London, England

Town Hall
Town Hall

Five councils have been given a fortnight to explain why steps should not be taken to stop their “propaganda on the rates”, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today (17 April 2014).

Formal letters have been sent to 5 London boroughs triggering the first legal steps the Secretary of State can now take to require compliance with the Publicity Code for local authorities, under the new Local Audit and Accountability Act.

The code sets a range of provisions in relation to local authority publicity including the frequency, content and appearance of taxpayer-funded news-sheets. This includes limiting publication to prevent competition with local newspapers, obliging councils to be cost effective and objective in any publicity material they publish.

Parliament passed the new Act after ongoing concerns that a small number of local authorities were breaching the publicity code, originally introduced under Margaret Thatcher’s government. Strengthening these provisions was in the Coalition Agreement published in 2010, reflecting policy commitments made by both coalition parties before the general election.

The action is been taken against the municipal newspapers of Greenwich Time, Hackney Today, the Newham mag, Waltham Forest News and (Tower Hamlets’) East End Life. The councils now have a fortnight to show why a direction is not necessary. Any council that does not follow the legal direction could end up facing a court order requiring compliance.

This is part of a series of measures to protect local democracy and enhance local scrutiny. The new provisions of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 have been used to initiate an investigation into the probity of the controversial mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets. New powers will also shortly enhance the rights of the press and public to report council meetings using digital and social media, following cases where members of the public have been threatened with arrest for reporting council meetings.

These measures build on the Localism Act 2011 which protected councillors’ free speech by changing the law on ‘predetermination’ which was being used to prevent councillors from campaigning on local issues and by scrapping a quango that was being used to bully councillors who blew the whistle on waste and corruption. The new rules today do not affect party political campaigning using private funds.

Mr Pickles said:

"It is scandalous that bloggers have been handcuffed for tweeting from council meetings, while propaganda on the rates drives the free press out of business. Only Putin would be proud of a record like that.

"Localism needs robust and independent scrutiny by the press and public, and municipal state-produced newspapers suppress that. ‘Town Hall Pravdas’ not only waste taxpayers’ money unnecessarily, they undermine free speech.

"I have given written notice to councils most clearly breaching the Publicity Code, noting that Parliament has passed new laws to tackle this abuse. We are prepared to take further action against any council that undermines local democracy - whatever the political colour.

"We have changed the law to protect the free speech of councillors. If councillors and political parties want to campaign and put out political literature, they are very welcome to do so, and it’s an important part of our democratic process. But they should be using their own money, rather than taxpayers."


For more information about this press release visit https://www.gov.uk/government/news/eric-pickles-takes-action-to-defend-the-independent-free-press

 


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Posted 2014-04-18 16:31:00