Speaking to council leaders at Local Government Association (LGA) annual conference, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today (9 July 2014) called for new technology and innovation to bring municipal statutory notices into the modern 21st century era.
Mr Pickles defended statutory notices as an important way of ensuring that local residents were informed of decisions that affect their property and lives. He also criticised the ‘sterile debate’ of the LGA arguing for the complete abolition of statutory notices replaced with nothing other than ‘an obscure notice’ on a council website.
Mr Pickles compared that 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, the Secretary of State announced he will bring councils and the newspaper industry together to work together on some voluntary pilots to explore the case for innovation in statutory notices.
This could include paid digital advertising; using location-specific mobile technology; and pooling statutory notices – so rather than being at the back of a newspaper in 9 point text, they would be up front in the hard copy newspaper, with links for residents to find out more.
Mr Pickles said council-run newspapers were not a viable alternative. Newspapers should not face unfair taxpayer-funded competition. Instead, 21st century independent media offered councils the chance to reach out, inform and engage in a way a council website cannot.
The excerpt from Mr Pickles’ speech is below:
Both the private and public sector need to embrace the technology and the internet and changing public demand, otherwise they will fall by the wayside.
That’s why local government is now at the forefront of the open data agenda with the new local government Transparency Code.
We are opening up council meetings to new rights to film, tweet and blog - in a digital age, we cannot cling to analogue interpretations of rules on public access.
Statutory notices also need to change.
But it has been a sterile debate, with the LGA arguing for their complete abolition, replacing them with nothing other than an obscure notice on a council website.
I am reminded of the passage from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
As Arthur Dent’s house is being demolished by the council, he’s 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’.
Rather than this binary debate, I want councils to work with the newspaper industry to look at new ways we can improve statutory notices and better inform the public. Digital advertising. Social media. Location-specific mobile technology. Pooling statutory notices, so they’re not in a 9 point font at the back of the newspaper, but front up, with weblinks to find out more.
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.