This Government remain committed to protecting the independent press from unfair competition. A healthy local democracy requires the accountability that comes from scrutiny of councils by the press and the public.
The Government have sought to take action against the practice, by a small number of local authorities, of publishing local authority newspapers, which given the frequency of their publication, can push out and undermine that independent press. A small number of councils continue to breach the recommendations of the code of recommended practice on local authority publicity about the frequency of publication for council newspapers.
Further to the written statement of 10 March 2015, Official Report, Column 8WS we have warned a small number of local authorities about their continued failure to comply with the provisions of the publicity code.
Today I am announcing the conclusions to date of the review into the actions of three of those authorities: the London Borough of Hackney, the London Borough of Newham and the London Borough of Waltham Forest.
In each case my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is minded to exercise his powers under the Local Government Act 1986 to direct the local authorities to comply by no later than 31 January 2017, 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, the Secretary of State is today issuing to each of the three authorities a written notice of the direction he proposes to issue in each case.
In deciding to take this action, the Secretary of State has carefully considered the representations each of these local authorities has made in response to a notice given to it on 10 March 2015 of a proposed direction relating to frequency of publication of council newsletters, news sheets 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 authority 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 local authority with a direction. Each decision will be taken on its own merits.
I will be placing copies of the documents associated with these announcements in the Library of the House.