Reading Conservatives on the Council’s Policy Committee tonight expressed a series of concerns over the Council’s proposed “Advertising and Sponsorship Policy”.
Conservatives welcomed the specific pledge to refuse ads from gambling, betting and pay-day loan companies but criticised the lack of detail in a policy which would decide which organisations would be permitted to advertise on Council assets.
- The Council report refers to “political organisations” not being allowed to advertise but clarification indicated that this would not include Trades Unions connected to the Labour Party which often use expensive ads to promote political messages in the run up to elections.
- The policy says it will “generally not permit” ads from lobby groups, “which is (sic) in conflict with Council priorities or policy” but it contains no detail on the process of who would decide which organisations are permitted to advertise and which are not.
- The report says that tobacco ads “may” be excluded, when such ads are already not permitted in law.
Group Leader Cllr Tim Harris expressed concern that since lobby groups were generally excluded from advertising this could affect groups such as Stonewall which lobbies on LGBT issues. Cllr Harris said, “The lack of definition as to what comprises a political organisation or lobby group is concerning. The policy should have included clearer definitions so that there is no ambiguity.”
Cllr Jeanette Skeats criticised the lack of any explanation as to how decisions would be made. She said, “The report contains no proposal on process. Many of the decisions would necessarily be subjective and I cannot support a proposal without this clarity.”
Cllr Richard Willis stated, “It is notable that whilst the Council wishes to exclude adverts from political organisations and lobby groups it disagrees with, it is not stopping Trades Unions from running their usual anti-Conservative campaign in the run-up to major elections.”
Under questioning from Cllr Ed Hopper, Council Officers agreed that the policy would not apply to the majority of bus shelters in the Borough, which were owned by JC Decaux.
However, a Labour Councillor stated that Reading Transport would be likely to accept the Council’s guidance when it developed its own advertising and sponsorship policy.
The Conservatives voted against the policy due to its lack of clarity, the obvious exclusion of Trades Unions from its scope, and the lack of detail on process.