On 29 January 2015, I explained to the House, Official Report, column 28WS, the coalition Government’s commitment to protecting an independent free local press. This reflects commitments made in the coalition agreement, and the legislative provisions made by Parliament through the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014. I described how the Government were seeking to take action on the practice by a small number of local authorities to publish local authority newspapers, which given their frequency of publication, can push out and undermine that independent press.
A very small number of councils continue to breach the recommendations of the local government publicity code about the frequency of publication for council newspapers. In my written ministerial statement of 3 March 2015, Official Report, column 49WS, I outlined the steps the Government are taking in relation to the continued weekly publication by the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
Today, I am announcing the conclusions to date of the review into the actions of three further councils; the London borough of Hackney council, the London borough of Newham council and the London borough of Waltham Forest council. Each of these has a fortnightly municipal newspaper.
In each case, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles) is minded to exercise his powers in the Local Government Act 1986, as amended by the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, to direct the council to comply by no later than 30 April 2015 with the provision in the March 2011 code of recommended practice on local authority publicity that:
“Where local authorities do commission or publish newsletters, news sheets or similar communications, they should not issue them more frequently than quarterly”.
Accordingly, as required by the statute, the Secretary of State is today issuing to each of the three councils a written notice of the direction he proposes to issue to it.
In reaching these conclusions, the Secretary of State has carefully considered the representations each of these councils has made in response to a notice given to it on 25 September 2014 of a proposed direction relating to frequency of publication of council newsletters, newssheets or similar publications. He has also considered other information available to him about each of the three council’s publicity, and had regard to an equality statement about enforcing the 2011 code of recommended practice on local authority publicity.
Each council now has 14 days to make written representations to the Secretary of State about the proposed direction. Following this, the Secretary of State will take his final decision in each case about whether or not to issue the council with a direction. Each decision will be taken on its own merits.
I will be placing copies of the associated documents in the Library of the House.