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Pickles in fresh clampdown on town hall Pravdas

Ministers have announced plans to toughen up their own rules in a fresh bid to prevent council-funded newspapers competing with the local press.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles originally launched a crackdown on so-called ‘Town Hall Pravdas’ shortly after the Coalition government came to power in 2010.

But some local authorities have continued to flout his voluntary Publicity Code which aims to restrict free council publications to four a year and says they should not resemble newspapers in style and content.

Last year, for instance, Greenwich Council was reported to the District Auditor for continuing to publish its newsletter Greenwich Time every two weeks.

Now Mr Pickles is seeking to give the Code the force of law by requiring councils to comply with it.

An action plan for his department proposes legislation “to provide the Secretary of State with the power to make a direction requiring compliance with some or all of the Code’s recommendations to protect local commercial newspapers from unfair competition from municipal publications.”

The Newspaper Society which represents the local press industry is to write to Mr Pickles to welcome the move but also highlight concerns that many competitive council publications have been allowed to continue unchecked.

The government action plan suggests that it could take until April 2014 to complete the changes required.