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Minister's website criticised as costly publicity stunt...
Minister's website criticised as costly publicity stunt

By Nick Golding

Is it one of the most innovative attempts by a politician to engage with the public or free publicity at the expense of the British taxpayer?

David Miliband's online blog was last week nominated for a New Statesman magazine new media award, little more than a month after it first went public.

The site has brought readers a glimpse of the minister for communities and local government's thinking on some of the most fundamental challenges facing local government - as well as some pure trivia.

When he speculated the World Cup could interfere with scheduling at the Local Government Association conference, one G Harrison retorted: 'There is more to occupy your time surely than football. Please get on with it.'

Among the more serious highlights have been his analysis of local government innovation in North America, with comments which could be taken as a pointer to the thinking behind the forthcoming local government white paper.

Mr Miliband swooned over Toronto's 'golden horseshoe', a kind of cross-border city region stretching as far as Buffalo in the US, and noted how many North American city mayors were keen to tap into networks of mayors across the world.

He explained: 'We need our city leaders to get into those networks. The competition for UK cities is hot; we can't just look to improve, we need to move forward fast.'

Some users have criticised the cost of the blog, which is part of a£6,000 Office of the Deputy Prime Minister IT contract.

After the cost was revealed those responding were divided evenly over whether it was worthwhile, although the minister himself insisted: 'The true test will be if people read and comment on the site.' In the first 25 days of April, 46 people responded to the minister's views.

A spokeswoman for Mr Miliband said: 'David's really pleased with how it's going.'

But Eric Pickles MP (Con), the shadow local government minister, said: 'If taxpayers are funding it then it's a waste of money.'


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