NMA Briefs MPs On Industry Work To Boost Engagement With Public Notices

The News Media Association has written to an influential Parliamentary committee to brief MPs on the work undertaken by the local news media sector to boost engagement with public notices.

In a letter to Clive Betts MP, chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, the NMA welcomed the Committee’s recommendation to retain statutory public notices in printed local newspapers, alongside greater use of digital technology to maximise public engagement with the notices.

In its report last month, the Committee said that removing the statutory requirement on councils to publish in printed local papers would create “a postcode lottery as to whether such notices continue.”   

“This would disadvantage those residing in financially stretched councils and those moving into local authorities where such practices have been discontinued. The existing statutory notices should be retained for all local authorities, to be used alongside technology,” the Committee said.

In the letter to Mr Betts, NMA deputy chief executive Lynne Anderson said: “We agree with the Committee’s conclusion that, among other negative effects, removing the statutory requirement would risk leaving some communities profoundly disadvantaged.

“Since we submitted our evidence to the Committee, the NMA has announced a major project to develop an industry-wide online portal for public notices which, alongside print notices in local papers, will further increase public engagement in planning, road traffic changes and other important information which people need to know as part of the democratic process.”

Funded by £1 million from the Google News Initiative, the project will see the creation of a common online portal offering access to the public notices published in print by regional and local newspapers across the country.

Market research into consumer needs to help inform the project and is underlining the importance to online users of mobile technology, mapping and geolocation, and notifications. The project is also collating feedback and advice from local authorities.

The portal will be ready for beta launch later this year.

The local news media industry has also adopted new Public Notices Publishing Guidelines – a set of commitments to better publicise public notices, including regular editorial coverage in print and digital, and clear signposting in paper.

Independent research by BVA BDRC has highlighted the democratic deficit that would be created by withdrawing public notices from local papers, disenfranchising elderly and vulnerable groups in particular.

The research found that that nearly 10 million people, many of whom are vulnerable, would not be able to find planning notices if they did not appear in printed local newspapers.