Eric has told councils he wants them to stop paying public affairs people to lobby central government. No-nonsense Mr Pickles regards this as part of the bad old politics of the pre-localismlocalismlocalism era. He now wants councillors to “pick up the phone to him”. Fair enough. It does seem ironic, however, that Eric is implementing this by resorting to another tactic of the pre-localismlocalismlocalism era: top down dictates. He plans to amend the statutory code for publicity.
This is all wrong. It shows that there’s been no change at a department whose first instinct is to legislate. Eric instead needs to find new ways to influence local government. On this issue that means trusting that his requirement that councils publish spending of over £500 will give local people the power to tackle vanity spending. It also means spending more time cajouling and convincing local leaders. The statute book should be a last resort.