Gordon Brown is to hold more cabinet meetings outside London and wants to improve relations with regional journalists, his spokesman told parliament today.
Michael Ellam said Brown intended to follow up his recent cabinet meeting in Birmingham with other meetings, and told peers: “We will go out of London again. It won’t be Birmingham again.”
Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary and head of the home civil service, told the House of Lords communications committee: ‘The Government would like to engage more with the regional media. They feel it is a more important direct line of communication.”
Elam and O’Donnell were responding to criticisms from regional journalists that Whitehall treated them as “second class citizens”.
Elam said that regional political journalists were entitled to attend the twice-daily briefings between Downing Street and the Lobby, and said Brown gave regional interviews when he made visits outside London.
O’Donnell said that the compaints from regional journalists were “familiar territory” and recalled that when he was press secretary to John Major in 1990, he had received a similar complaint and requests from editors for interviews with the prime minister.
He said: “We are doing our best,” but added: “We will redouble our efforts. I think it is a hugely important thing and I know the prime minister does as well.”
Lord King questioned O’Donnell on the increase in the number of Whitehall press officers over the past 10 years, which had gone up from 216 to 273.
King said the number of people employed in communications had risen from 1,628 to 3,158 over the same period.
O’Donnell told peers: “The demands placed upon the press offices have gone up. There are dozens of new blogs every single day.”
He said that there were more than 300 Lobby correspondents and the BBC employed 3,000 journalists alone.