Pledge To Cut Council 'Propaganda'

Local government spokeswoman condemns taxpayer-funded media

Shadow Communities and Local Government spokeswoman Caroline Spelman has publicly condemned taxpayer-funded media pledging that a Conservative government would tighten the Local Authority Publicity Code so that any council output was focused on services.

Changes to the Publicity Code paved the way for councils to enter the media market, with some producing weekly or monthly glossy publications whilst other created local TV stations, subsidised by taxpayers' money. According to Spelman, local authorities are now spending £430m on council publicity.

Should they win the election, the Conservatives say they will demand that all councils publish online exactly what they are spending with a full breakdown of print costs, design and delivery, and editorial.

Shepherd's Bush MP Andy Slaughter welcomed the move and said he had written to Spelman saying: "I fully support this position and have made the point in several Commons debates that local authority-funded newspapers which seek to replace the local media are both wasteful of public money and undermining of local democracy, whichever party is promoting them."

"I would urge you to apply the same standard to perhaps the most obvious offender, H&FNews, produced by Conservative-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which currently costs the taxpayer at least £500,000 a year, and is universally known as Pravda by local residents for its slavish adherence to the Party line. I hope you will advise your colleagues that there should be no more propaganda on the taxpayers and to cease publication forthwith."

Local opposition leader, Stephen Cowan, has said that Labour councillors will sell off H&F News and radically cut back expenditure on the Council’s press office and advertising operation if they win the local elections on May 6th.

However, a Council spokesperson denied that H&F News was produced with public money and said the publication was very popular among residents: "H&F News does not cost taxpayers a penny to produce and residents have shown time and time again that they like receiving the newspaper and look forward to it coming through their door. The Council has a major role to play in connecting with our neighbourhoods and letting taxpayers know how we are spending their money. There are already tough restrictions on publicity which prevent the newspaper from publishing anything that is party political."

March 17, 2010