Seven local authorities have been asked to ensure that publication of their print publications will comply with rules aimed at protecting commercial newspapers and the Government has given them two weeks to explain what they how plan to do.
Local government newspapers have been condemned by some as 'townhall Pravdas' because they are seen as providing unfair competition for commercial newspapers and as being vehicles for council propaganda.
Local government minister Kris Hopkins yesterday wrote to the following councils:
- The London borough of Enfield
- The London Borough of Hillingdon
- The Lond borough of Lambeth
- Mid Devon and North Somerset.
He reminded them that an authority may be directed to comply with some or all of the rules as set out in the Publicity Code.
He has also warned that where the Secretary of State considers that there is a risk that in future a council will not be complying with those rules, he will be minded, in accordance with law, to issue a written notice of a proposed direction.
Any council which does not follow such a direction could end up facing a court order requiring compliance.
The Publicity Code details a range of provisions about local authority publicity including the frequency, content and appearance of taxpayer-funded news-sheets, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The rules include limiting publication to prevent competition with local newspapers, and oblige councils to be cost effective and objective in any publicity material they publish.
Hopkins said: "It has been suggested that some councils might not be complying with the Publicity Code. Newsletters, newssheets or similar communications should not issue more frequently than quarterly.
"The great majority of local authorities comply with the Publicity Code, which was designed to ensure the independent local media – a vital part in any local democracy – does not face unfair competition.
"Councils should now take steps to ensure publication in the future will be in line with the Code's provisions."
The Department for Communities and Local Government said Lambeth Council was delivering its newspaper, Lambeth Talk, every month, with the next edition due next month, while Hillingdon was delivering Hillingdon People, and Enfield sending out Our Enfield, every two months.
Medway Council was also sending out copies of Medway Matters every two months, while the councils at Luton, Mid Devon and North Somerset all ran monthly publications.