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Pickles calls for new approach on statutory notices

Local government secretary Eric Pickles has called on councils and the newspaper industry to ‘work together’ to bring municipal statutory notices into the 21st century era.

Speaking at the Local Government Association (LGA) annual conference, he stated that statutory notices are an important way of ensuring that local residents are informed of decisions that affect their property and lives.

However, he criticised calls by the LGA to replace statutory notices with a notice on local authority websites. He compared this approach to a passage from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “as Arthur Dent’s house is demolished, he is told by planning officers that the notice has been in the council’s “display department” for the last 9 months: “A department located… in the basement; in a disused lavatory; without a light; in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet; with a sign on the door, saying: ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”

Instead, he wants both the newspaper industry and local government to work together on some voluntary pilots to explore the case for ‘innovation’ in statutory notices.

For example, he suggested that paid digital advertising; using location-specific mobile technology; and pooling statutory notices – so rather than being at the back of a newspaper in nine point text, they would be up front in the hard copy newspaper; could be explored.

Pickles said: “I want councils to work with the newspaper industry to look at new ways we can improve statutory notices and better inform the public.

“To take this forward, I want to bring councils and the newspaper industry together to work together on some pilots to show the case for innovation. Newspapers need to embrace new technology to survive.

“But they should not face unfair competition from council newspapers. And 21st century independent media offer councils the chance to reach out, inform and engage - an alternative to the depths of obscurity in a council website or lavatory without a light.”

Paul Sinker of the Newspaper Society (NS) told PSE: “In recent years, government consultations on traffic, planning and alcohol licensing  notices have consistently demonstrated that the public overwhelmingly want and expect to find public notices in their local newspaper, whether in print or across their various digital platforms. 

“The public are quite aware that it is not always in the local authority’s interests to call attention to such notices, particularly for controversial applications; if publication in the local paper did not remain mandatory, these notices could simply be hidden away on an obscure part of the council website where no one would find them. 

“Recent research by GfK found that eight times as many people had read a newspaper in the past week than had looked at their council website (33 million v 4 million adults). 

“In his speech at the LGA, the Secretary of State rightly acknowledged that local newspapers, in print and digital, are the best place for such notices to appear and that placing them on council websites instead would result in large sections of the public being denied access to important information which affect them. 

“The local media industry is already publishing sought-after local news and information via digital, mobile, and social media as well the core printed platforms. More councils can benefit from this by working with local newspapers to explore new and innovative ways to publish public notices to ensure maximum reach. The NS is to meet with Eric Pickles to discuss how his proposals for pilots can be moved forward.”

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