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Second London council defies Pickles over freesheets

Ministers are warning of fresh action to force town halls to comply with guidelines over the publication of council newspapers after a second London authority said it would continue to defy the government.

Both Greenwich and Lambeth councils have been threatened with legal action by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles unless they reduce the frequency of their council newsletters to four a year.

Earlier this week HTFP reported that Lambeth was continuing to defy the ruling by publishing monthly, and Greenwich has now confirmed it intends to go on publishing its weekly freesheet, Greenwich Time.

The Department of Communities and Local Government responded by threatening “next steps” against authorities which have refused to comply with its order.

A DCLG spokesman said: “Spending on council newspapers and newsletters can not only waste taxpayers’ money but also undermines the independent free press.

“We have been very clear that we expect councils to comply with the local government publicity rules.

“That’s why we have written to a number of councils, including Lambeth and Greenwich, giving them the opportunity to explain why steps should not be taken to direct them to comply with the rules.

“We will be making a statement shortly on our next steps.”

As reported by HTFP yesterday, the net cost of producing Greenwich Time in the financial year 2013/14 was £102,001.11.

The borough has defended its decision to defy Mr Pickles’ order.

A Royal Borough of Greenwich spokesman said: “The council maintains that its decision to provide local residents with access to essential information through a weekly newspaper provides them with best value for money.

“No other local newspaper currently delivers to all homes in our borough.

“Currently the Council would have to advertise in at least two independent newspapers to provide the same level of access to our available social housing, or statutory information on planning applications, road works and other similar matters.

“This would increase costs on the borough and local council tax payers at a time when budgets are severely constrained.”

Lambeth Council has declined to comment on the issue.

In a separate move, the News Media Association this week held a briefing session for local media publishers on a pilot scheme aimed at improving  statutory notices to be run by DCLG, with interested parties able to apply until 28 January.

6 comments

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  • January 23, 2015 at 9:52 am
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    Again – central government (in this case Pickles again!) commenting on things it really doesnt have a clue about, or conveniently chooses to ignore.

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  • January 23, 2015 at 10:53 am
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    Pickles is simply enjoying throwing his (considerable) weight around. If residents don’t like how their elected representatives spend the council tax money, they can let them know at the ballot box. Local newspapers have been their own worst enemies by decimating their own local government coverage.

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  • January 23, 2015 at 2:15 pm
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    A DCLG spokesman said: “Spending on council newspapers and newsletters can not only waste taxpayers’ money but also undermines the independent free press.”

    Evidence based policy? Or anecdote based policy? I note that the spokesman says “can waste money” not “does waste money”.

    He could equally have said “Not spending council newspapers and newsletter can waste taxpayers money…”

    Localism at work. Johners1712 has it exactly right.

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  • January 23, 2015 at 2:51 pm
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    I am a hack but why are some local papers seemingly afraid of a periodical from a council ?Many of them do a lousy job on councils, some not even sending reporters to meetings, though this is due to continual serious staff shortages rather than reporters not being willing.
    I know one press officer who tells me they go months without seeing a newspaper reporter and then get asked by some desperate reporter who missed a story if they can supply quotes from a meeting if some controversy arises. Cheeky!.
    Pickles should stay out of it.

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  • January 23, 2015 at 5:50 pm
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    Council newspapers don’t provide local government coverage in any way any journalist would recognise. They provide PR spin and try to pass it off as something more credible by putting it in newspaper form.

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