Dermott Calpin 30 June 2011

Taking liberties with poster ban

Councils are cracking down on leafleting by local arts groups and organisations such as the WI - yet are steadily increasing spending on their own publicity leaflets, according to a report published by the Manifesto Club.

The report entitled 'Leafleting: A Liberty Lost?' claims that people in our towns and cities have enjoyed the right to hand out and distribute leaflets freely for centuries – but since 2005 councils have brought in new draconian restrictions.

At the same time it claims councils are increasing spending on their own publicity with £4.6m spent by just 77 local authorities who record their leaflet and poster budgets.Over the past year, Cornwall CC spent £383,097 on leaflets and posters while Manchester City Council spent £207,341 on leaflets.

Research by the Manifesto Club, which campaigns against the hyper-regulation of everyday life, attracted 245 replies from local authorities with 65 saying they had brought in regulations to restrict leafleting and the use of posters.

While some councils have banned local leafleting entirely, 45 local authorities - including Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and Leeds – demand that people buy an official licence if they want to leaflet. In Basildon it costs up to £350 to distribute leaflets on a Saturday.

The study claims that the new rules covering posters and leaflets for anything from a lost cat to local school fayres, arts clubs, small markets and jumble sales, have been catastrophic for local organisations and community life.

It cites the example of a ban on flyers in Westminster’s Leicester Square, which led to the closure of three West End comedy clubs; several political campaigners have been fined for leafleting; the Leicester Comedy Festival was asked to pay £5,200 per day for leafleting; while Oxford student societies now have to buy a licence to leaflet fellow students.

Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club and author of the report, said:

'It's shocking that a taken-for-granted freedom has been overturned.

'Councils claim they are tackling litter but these rules mainly affect local groups who leaflet on a small scale. Big businesses can afford the licence fees; it is the small theatre or music night that is squeezed out of public space.

'The growth of council leafleting suggests that there is free speech only for local authorities. We call for an urgent review of these council powers - and a more liberal approach that recognises leafleting as a key civic freedom.'

Copies of the report from manifesto club.

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