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.