Local authorities matter. They provide many of the most basic public services: schools, roads, refuse collections and recycling, social services, planning and benefits administration. They are the part of government you would notice first, if they stopped working. In many areas of Britain, a council is the largest employer, and with their elected members, local authorities are arguably the most democratic type of public sector organisation.
But they are tricky to follow. Journalists trying to cover councils nationally suffer from being based mainly in one place, London, from lack of resources and from the sheer number of authorities.
The exceptions are journalists who work for locally-focused publishers. Despite falling advertising and circulation income, it is still local and regional newspapers, broadcasters and online publishers that produce the best coverage of local authorities.
As a result, while it is easy to keep tabs on your own council, if you want to track local authorities nationwide – as a councillor or official keen to learn from your peers, or a supplier seeking new opportunities – you would need to monitor many hundreds of sources.
So let Council News Monitor do the job for you. It’s a new email service, sent first thing every weekday morning, with articles and press releases from councils in all nine English regions, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – or, as the four nations can safely be called again, the United Kingdom.
But the UK is set to change as a result of Scotland’s recent vote against independence, and the promises that Westminster’s political leaders made on devolving power to secure that. As the prime minister made clear the morning after the referendum, as well as Scotland this includes Wales, Northern Ireland and English regions and cities. The last in particular means local authorities, and our first issue led with England’s Key Cities calling for exactly this kind of devolution. We’re also seen cities in the north renewing their calls as Scotland’s decision to stay in the UK became clear and Greater Manchester’s 10 councils getting on with the job.
As part of testing our tracking individual councils, we watched the results of Labour leader Ed Miliband’s plea in Liverpool for English authorities to fly the Scottish Saltire in support of the Better Together campaign. While Tameside, Nottinghamshire, Stoke, Derby, Southend, Barking and Dagenham, Hounslow, Lewisham and Redbridge were among those following suit, Lincolnshire decided to fly the Union flag instead, while Thurrock, Hull and Derbyshire decided not to bother. The last two both justified this by saying they would need to buy a new flag.
For now, courtesy of sponsorship from The Information Daily, Council News Monitor is going free to those receiving updates from this site. It will move to a paid subscription model later this year – at a keen price. If you want solid information on something, you normally have a choice between ‘expensive that works’, services that can only be afforded by sizable businesses, and ‘free that often doesn’t’, such as search engines. It’s a choice between an expensive manual and a free automatic – and with the latter, you often get what you pay for.
Council News Monitor is semi-automatic, using smart technology to hunt news and information, but with editorial decisions made by humans not algorithms. The result is a service that will be affordable by individuals and small businesses.
And for now, you can try it for free: sign up here.
SA Mathieson edits Council News Monitor