Should Eric Pickles intervene and stop Town Talk being delivered to Birkenhead households during the election?
Last year, Wirral Council’s former Chief Executive Graham Burgess would’ve received this letter from DCLG about publicity issued by Wirral Council.
To summarise the letter it reminds Wirral Council to comply with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Government Publicity and if they don’t reminds them that the Secretary of State has a legal power to direct local councils to comply.
Since this new power came into force about a year ago, you can read here various letters written by the Secretary of State to councils that weren’t complying with the code.
On the agenda for the last Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting was a copy of the first edition of “Town Talk” (the Birkenhead Constituency Area Community Newsletter). 40,000 copies of Town Talk have been printed and will be delivered to households in Birkenhead. This is the first of three editions (all three editions are costing the taxpayer £22,500).
The front page of Town Talk has a photo of Councillor Phil Davies and the Rt Hon Frank Field MP at the opening of a café called the Vikes. Also on the front page, there is a plea for any “feedback, story ideas or contributions” by May 1st, so presumably this first edition will have been delivered by then.
One of the principles in the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Government Publicity is “Publicity by local authorities should be issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity”.
In fact it makes this very clear in section 34 “Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should not be published by local authorities during this period unless expressly authorised by or under statute.”
In other words the taxpayer shouldn’t be funding a leaflet going out to households in Birkenhead during an election publicising two people who are highly likely to be Labour candidates.
The fact Wirral Council is outsourcing this to Lairdside Communities Together doesn’t matter either as section 25 states:
“25. Where local authorities provide assistance to third parties to issue publicity they should ensure that the principles in this code are adhered to by the recipients of that assistance.”
Issue 1 of Town Talk also falls foul of this part of the code too:
“30. All local authority publicity should clearly and unambiguously identify itself as a product of the local authority. Printed material, including any newsletters, newssheets or similar publications published by the local authority, should do this on the front page of the publication.”
Although there is a Wirral Council logo on the front page (one of three logos) nowhere on the front page (or in fact any page) does it state it’s funded by Wirral Council.
You can see for yourself in the video clip below what Cllr Paul Doughty had to say about the first edition of Town Talk at the last Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting:
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He said, “About the newsletter, there is a recommendation actually that we agree a further £5,000 for the newsletter. I cannot agree to that. I’m very disappointed about this, I had a sleepless night I was so upset about this, I just think at best it’s a lost opportunity at worst it’s a waste of money and I’m really, really disappointed.
My understanding was it was an A4 twelve page document, which stressed the positive activities and news in Birkenhead to make this issue just eight pages of social advertising, to me it’s just a complete waste. So one, I couldn’t agree to that recommendation and secondly I just cannot stress how disappointed I am with it.”
If you’d like to make representations to the Department of Communities and Local Government about Town Talk, you can email ConductCode@communities.gsi.gov.uk or the Secretary of State for Local Government Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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