The recent decision by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee to reject Eric Pickles‘ proposals to restrict the publication of council newspapers has reopened a debate on the role such publications should play.
In one corner is the Government, which is strongly critical of councils spending public funds on ‘town hall pravdas’ that they see as little better than propaganda magazines. They are supported by regional and local newspaper publishers who cite them as a threat to their businesses because some charge advertising revenue and publish weekly editions, putting them in direct competition with their papers. Publications like H&F Newsand East End Life (both published by London authorities) are cited of evidence of this trend.
Secretary of State Eric Pickles‘ written statement to Parliament outlined his department’s recent undertakings, which included a new initiative to help local communities revitalise disused pubs and social clubs, taking action to make local government more transparent and launching plans to support people to build their own homes.
Who could argue with moves to involve people more closely in running their communities, reduce red tape and devolve power (and responsibility) to grass-roots level?
There were two things about today’s announcement that struck me in particular.
1. There were few surprises: this had been an extremely well trailed package, with plenty of elements announced weeks in advance by Ministers, and Eric Pickles undertaking a round of media interviews yesterday to sell his vision.