The Department for Communities and Local Government has written to all local authority chief executives to set out how Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is minded to direct compliance with the Code of Practice on Local Authority Publicity.
The Communities Secretary’s new power to direct compliance was brought in through s. 39 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 (inserting a new s. 4A into the Local Government Act 1986). Section 39 came into force on 30 March.
The letter from the DCLG’s Deputy Director – Democracy, Paul Rowsell, said: “The background to the new power is that whilst the majority of local authorities comply fully with the Publicity Code’s provisions, it is a matter of concern to the Government that there are still cases where this is not so, for example, local authorities issuing publicity that is political in nature or continuing to publish newspapers more frequently that stated in the Code’s provisions. The Secretary of State being able to direct compliance with the Publicity Code is a means whereby these concerns can be addressed.”
Rowsell added that the Secretary of State intended, as soon as possible after 30 March, to consider whether, and if so how, to exercise his power to direct one or more specified local authorities to comply with the code.
The letter said the Communities Secretary would, where he was minded to give a direction to an authority, give – as required by the 2014 Act – the authority notice in writing of the proposed direction.
Rowsell said the Secretary of State intended to adopt the following approach to this consideration: “Where on the basis of any material or information currently available to him, the Secretary of State considers that there is some evidence of non-compliance since the Publicity Code was issued in March 2011, and there is no current unambiguous evidence available to him that the non-compliance has ceased and that there is no risk of future non-compliance, he will be minded to give a direction to the authority concerned.
“That direction would take such form as he considers appropriate in order to end the non-compliance or remove the risk of any future non-compliance.”
Where the Communities Secretary has given an authority written notice of a proposed direction, he will – “as soon as practicable after the end of a period of 14 days beginning the day on which the notice was given to the authority” – decide whether or not to give that direction.
“In reaching that decision he will have regard to any written representations which the authority has made to him about the proposed direction within that period of 14 days, and to any other matter or information which he considers appropriate,” the letter said.
Rowsell added that whilst the Secretary of State would consider the circumstances of each case, he was minded to adopt the following policy in relation to this decision.
“This policy is that any proposed direction would be confirmed and given, with or without such modification as the Secretary of State considered appropriate, unless on the basis of the information and material available to the Secretary of State when taking the decision he concluded that there is unambiguous evidence that there is no non-compliance with the Publicity Code and that there is no risk of future non-compliance.”
The DCLG letter can be viewed here.