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.