A local authority in Essex has has reduced spending on its council newspaper by taking it online-only after costs peaked at more than £500,000 for just six editions.
New figures show that Essex County Council spent £526,000 on producing Essex Works in 2009/10 but this fell to £55,000 in 2011/12 after the publication stopped being printed.
The authority was one of a number in Essex to take their newspapers online-only in a bid to save costs, with Tendring and Colchester district councils making the switch in 2010.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles plans to crack down on “Town Hall Pravdas” by giving the force of law to an existing voluntary Code of Practice which aims to restrict council papers to publishing four times a year.
The figures, published by the East Anglian Daily Times, show that spending on council papers across Essex came to £1.18m since the economic downturn started.
This included the county council spending £812,000 in total on its publication between April 2009 and March this year.
Jonathan Isaby, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “At a time when councils are having to take tough decisions about where to find savings, the last thing they should be doing is spending exorbitant amounts of taxpayers’ cash on these expensive propaganda rags.
“Of course people need to be told which day their rubbish is being collected, but no-one ever asked for these taxpayer-funded newspapers and magazines which often go unread in any case.
“There are plenty of ways in which residents can find out what’s going on in their area.”
Chelmsford was one of the few councils in the area to maintain spending on its own newspaper, with the £44,000 outlay in the last financial year matching its expenditure in 2009/10.
But Braintree District Council cut spending from nearly £43,000 in 2009/10 to £9,800 in 2011/12.
A spokeswoman for Essex County Council said: “The council is always looking to ensure the best methods of communications are used to keep residents informed and engaged with our work, while being mindful of the cost.
“The decision to move Essex Works to an online publication is in-line with the authority’s policy to reduce the cost of printed materials.
“By moving online the costs have come down considerably. However, even three years ago when every household in Essex received a copy it was still only 90p per house for the year.”
A spokesman for Chelmsford City Council said: “Whilst other local districts in Essex have been forced to make tough decisions, Chelmsford City Council has made efficiency savings through a reduction in senior management levels to protect important service delivery.
“The council has a duty to inform its residents on all forms of service delivery, demonstrating how council tax is spent to improve the quality of the area for residents and visitors alike.
“The civic newspaper serves this purpose, reaching every property within the borough limits either in print or through electronic copy, highlighting the stories and information relevant to those who live in Chelmsford.”