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Central government warns Medway Council to comply with publicity rules

By Chris Hunter

Medway council has been warned by central government to stop breaking publicity rules.

A letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government to council leader Rodney Chambers notes concerns the council might not be complying with the Publicity Code - specifically by publishing its newssheet Medway Matters every two months, rather than the stipulated quarterly limit.

Written by minister for local government Kris Hopkins, the letter reminds Cllr Chambers that council newsletters should not be issued to frequently “to ensure that in each locality the independent local media does not face unfair competition.”

He adds: “In short, the purpose of that provision is to facilitate the environment which is as conducive as possible to the flourishing of the independent local media, an essential element of any effectively operating local democracy.”

Medway council's publication Medway Matters
Medway council's publication Medway Matters

The MP asks Cllr Chambers to take steps to ensure future publication is in line with the code and to reply within the next ten days to state how the council intends to proceed.

Earlier this year Medway Labour leader Vince Maple wrote to Secretary of State Eric Pickles, saying Medway matters and its associated website broke the code on matters of even-handedness, cost, frequency, and ambiguity - the last point raising concerns the council was using a ‘.com’ web domain rather than a ‘gov.uk’ and had the appearance of a news website, making it unclear that the site was a council production.

Secretary of State for communities and local government, Eric Pickles
Secretary of State for communities and local government, Eric Pickles

Responding to the latest development, Cllr Maple said he welcomed the letter, adding: “I hope they also take this opportunity to tackle the issues of cost, even-handedness and ambiguity which we have previously raised concerns over.

"The fact that Medway Matters has previously been used to ask a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate what their favourite food is or if they have any pets is a complete abuse of tax payers money - that simply wouldn’t happen under a Medway Labour controlled council.”

Cllr Tristan Osborne added: "I welcome any move which may cut taxpayer cost on a publication which undermines ad revenue for local journalism. Since 2010 the cost of the magazine has gone up by 15% and costs an eye watering £117,000 a year to distribute.

“Questions remain however about why senior Conservative Councillors deliberately chose to ignore government guidance that has been made clear for months and at what point officers briefed them on the Code of Practice. As the main opposition we have consistently raised this issue to senior portfolio holders yet have been ignored.”

Cllr Rodney Chambers said he had passed the letter on to officers responsible for Medway Matters.

“The letter suggests we should come down to quarterly,” he said. “We’re giving serious consideration to what the minister has said.

“I’ve referred it to the relevant officers to see what the implications are.”

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