An LGC exclusive by Nick Golding
Local government is being threatened with charges of hundreds of thousands of pounds for briefing staff on newspaper coverage of their work.
The charges particularly hit large councils which receive a lot of press coverage and like to keep staff informed about it. Bills depend on the number of staff receiving articles reproduced. Kensington & Chelsea LBC is understood to have faced a bill of over£200,000 to post press clippings concerning its work on its intranet site used by 4,000 staff.
After the council said it would reduce the number of employees receiving stories, the quote was reduced to£15,000 but it decided not to offer its staff the service.
It is believed at least one council was quoted a bill of£1m when it set out its original plans to circulate coverage.
Francis Ingham, head of public affairs at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, said: 'These latest bills show the agency has completely lost touch with reality.
'We do not believe the agency, as currently constituted, is a legitimate body to act as de facto
enforcer of copyright law. That is why we are in discussions with ministers and civil servants on how to reform or abolish it.'
Shropshire CC's head of communications, Paul Masterman, said: 'It can be prohibitively expensive, to the point that there are one or two local weekly newspapers which we don't provide cuttings from.'
However, an agency spokeswoman insisted fees 'generally increase with inflation'. She said they were necessary to compensate the industry for reduced sales if staff chose not to buy newspapers after receiving stories.
'We are always made out to be the evil people here, but in all honesty we bend over backwards to try and accommodate people,' she added.