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NS Calls for Meeting with Eric Pickles Over Council Papers

The NS has called for a meeting with Eric Pickles after the Communities Secretary announced plans to clamp down on councils which continue to defy the Government guidelines which ban aggressive council ‘newspapers’.

The NS is encouraged by the move by Mr Pickles to force councils to comply with Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity but concerned about the proposed timetable for enacting the change.

The NS and local media industry welcomed the revised Code banning aggressive council papers which was introduced a year ago and resulted in many councils closing their ‘newspapers’ or reducing their frequency in line with the revised guidelines.

“But we are concerned, given the well-publicised challenges facing independent commercial local newspapers in the midst of a crippling advertising recession, that many of the most aggressively competitive council newspapers have been allowed to continue unchecked, and that compliance with the Code may not be enforced for another two years,” the letter to Mr Pickles reads.

The letter, from NS communications and marketing director Lynne Anderson, cites the priority to put compliance with the Code on a statutory basis as outlined in the DCLG Business Plan 2012-15 and says it is encouraging.

“However, we note that the process of introducing legislation to give the Secretary of State the power to make a direction requiring compliance with some or all of the Code’s recommendations will not start until May 2013 and that such provisions are not expected to be in force until April 2014.”

The letter continues: “Council newspapers and increasingly their websites compete with independent local newspapers for private and public sector advertising, the lifeblood of independent local newspapers in their areas.

“By doing this, local authorities are siphoning off the primary source of revenue which enables independent local journalism to hold authorities to account on behalf of local people. It is vital that this unfair competition, which causes real damage to local newspapers, be stopped as a matter of urgency.

“We would like to arrange a meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss the Government’s plans to ensure compliance with the Code, the timetable for implementation, the likely effectiveness of any new legislation, and ensuring this covers not just printed publications but all types of media including websites and broadcast platforms.”

The NS is the voice of Britain’s local media, the UK’s most trusted medium. It represents 1,100 newspapers, 1,700 websites and other print, digital and broadcast channels.