Councils face further restrictions in how they spend public money on publicity after ministers accused a number of “rogue” authorities of continuing to publish “political propaganda” on the rates.
In 2011 the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) introduced a new publicity code aimed at ending “town hall Pravdas” which look like newspapers but exist to portray councils in a wholly positive light.
However Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles says some councils have persisted in diverting public money away from font-line services in order to publish good news stories about themselves.
The code was also intended to protect local newspapers from unfair competition from council owned news sheets.
The DCLG is now consulting on proposals to enshrine the publicity code in legislation, giving it a statutory footing in order to ensure compliance.
Launching the consultation, Mr Pickles said: “Some councils are undermining the free press and wasting taxpayers’ money which should be spent carefully on the front line services that make a real difference to quality of life. It should not, under any circumstances, be used to fund political propaganda and town hall Pravdas and yet a hardcore minority of councils continue to ignore the rules despite public concern.
“The line in the sand is clear, publicity material straying into propaganda clearly crosses that line, and this legislation will stop this disgraceful misuse of public money, which damages local democracy and threatens an independent, free and vibrant local press.”