Feb 2011 15

Councils are complaining that new rules designed to stop them spending so much of our money on publicity are ‘draconian’.   The Local Government Association has been whinging that the rules shows that the Government is not truly committed to localism but this is a pathetic attack- and it’s a line they seem to use every time Eric Pickles makes an announcement. Of course local communities should be free to conduct their own business in the way they see fit, but local councils must act within the law and certain other reasonable constraints.  Localism is intended to offer taxpayers a better deal, not to allow council-empires to flourish.

Eric Pickles should not have to ask councils not to spend huge sums of money on publicity.  Councils are supposed to provide services for the taxpayers who pay for them; it should go without saying that this does not include self promotion.  It does not fly in the face of localism for Pickles to mention to councils that they should not hire private sector lobbyists or set up stalls at political party conferences; it should go without saying that their activities should be in the spirit of democracy.

LGA Chairwoman, Baroness Eaton, described the rules as “entirely unnecessary” but sadly she is mistaken. We first looked in detail at council spending on publicity in 2007, but here we are in 2011 and councils are still churning out their own newspapers and splurging on glossy leaflets.  We first spotted local councils at party conferences some years ago, but they continued to spend taxpayers’ money on setting up stalls in 2008 and in 2009.

This is all part of a wider and ongoing attempt by certain councils, and the LGA that represents them, to create bad feeling around the changes happening at Town Hall level.  Many councils are angry that they are getting less money from the Government; they are angry at being asked to do ‘more for less’; they are angry that things are changing.  If this change was one that would interfere with the lives of local taxpayers it would be interfering with localism, but it is not.

See for yourself the common sense suggestions, the draft Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity is here.

Emma is the Campaign Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance. She leads efforts to change policy through powerful campaigns and is the voice of the TPA in the media.



  • Steve Collins

    Eric Pickles and his mates in the TPA ought to stop dictating what councils can and can’t do. The Localism Bill is a total sham, one that gives Eric Pickles a great deal of discretionary power and actually removes it from democratically elected local representatives.

    It is hardly unreasonable for councils to communicate with their residents about services, benefits and changes to services. Not everyone has access to the internet and a paper magazine is still the most accessible format to impart information to a broad range of people. If the publication is issued 3 or 4 times a year, is fairly brief and factual (16 pages max), its typesetting, print and distribution costs are as low as possible and it does not take paid for advertising (so as not to unfairly compete with local, commercial newspapers) then I fail to see a problem. Indeed, a council should have a duty to tell its residents how their money is being spent.

    The majority of councils already do adhere to Pickles’ publicity code.

    But, as usual, both the TPA and Pickles are true to form and make sweeping generalisations about council publicity, tarring all councils with the same brush – when it is in fact the minority that go overboard with publicity.

    I really do think that if more of the TPA staffers actually had some real world experience, lived outside of the Westminster bubble and had done real jobs, instead of ‘research’ this, ‘consultancy’ that, and ‘straight from PPE at Uni’ the other, they might have a slightly better idea of what is actually happening to millions of working families across the country.

  • Dr Robert Crowcroft

    Another insightful post, Emma. You are consistently one of the few policy campaigners with the intelligence to say something of substance rather than mere ideological exhibitionism (the bane of political debate in the UK). Keep up the good work.

    Dr Robert Crowcroft
    University of Leeds

  • Steve Collins

    Dr Crowcroft,

    You must be having a laugh. Hardly insightful – this kind of thing has appeared in the Daily Mail, Express and Telegraph over the past few months.

    If you genuinely feel that what Emma Boon and her cohort does is not ‘ideological exhibitionism’ then I really do fear for the students at the University of Leeds.

    If the TPA didn’t constantly bash the public sector, and especially councils, then they would virtually cease to exist. I feel that even the TPA would admit that they are regularly guilty of ‘ideological exhibitionism’.

  • Steve Collins

    Dr Crowcroft,

    You must be having a laugh. Hardly insightful – this kind of thing has appeared in the Daily Mail, Express and Telegraph over the past few months.

    If you genuinely feel that what Emma Boon and her cohort does is not ‘ideological exhibitionism’ then I really do fear for the students at the University of Leeds.

    If the TPA didn’t constantly bash the public sector, and especially councils, then they would virtually cease to exist. I feel that even the TPA would admit that they are regularly guilty of ‘ideological exhibitionism’.

  • Steve Collins

    Dr Crowcroft,

    You must be having a laugh. Hardly insightful – this kind of thing has appeared in the Daily Mail, Express and Telegraph over the past few months.

    If you genuinely feel that what Emma Boon and her cohort does is not ‘ideological exhibitionism’ then I really do fear for the students at the University of Leeds.

    If the TPA didn’t constantly bash the public sector, and especially councils, then they would virtually cease to exist. I feel that even the TPA would admit that they are regularly guilty of ‘ideological exhibitionism’.

  • Phil T

    Wow, our Eric is doing a great job!
    At long last we have someone who is ready to confront and challenge the local government bureaucratic wastrels who have for years siphoned off taxpayers hard-earned money and filled their pockets at the working man’s expense.
    Good on you Mr. Pickles and more power to your elbow.

  • R S

    Emma, local authority PR Officer here in peace. I broadly agree with what you are saying, indeed my local aithority already operates within the proposed new code so won’t be affected.

    However, if you’re looking for taxpayers money being wasted – and a missed opportunity for the new code – have you ever thought of looking into the amount that local Councils HAVE to spend on public notices? You know, they are the wordy, small-print adverts you see towards the back of your local paper about planning applications, changes to charges at your local leisure centre, etc. Does anyone ever read them? Wouldn’t it be easier to put them on local council websites instead of spending £10,000s every year putting them in the local paper – something Councils currently have to do by law?

    That’s the sort of meaningful research I’d welcome and I can guarantee you it will save us millions. Taxpayers would be genuinely shocked at how much is spent on these pointless adverts.

    Problem is of course, which newspaper would back you in that campaign? Then again, if you are genuine about saving taxpayers money and not just seeking publicity for your organisation with the right-wing press then that won’t be a problem will it?