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Council newspapers 'overstepping mark' says Burnham

Some local councils are “overstepping” the mark by publishing their own taxpayer-funded newspapers, culture secretary Andy Burnham has told a local daily.

In an interview with the Scarborough Evening News the issue, Mr Burnham said the controversial issue which has sparked widespread debate throughout the industry was currently top of his in-tray.

Mr Burnham also said he would ask the Local Government Association, which represents 466 English and Welsh local authorities, to attend a media summit on 28 April to face questioning over their own newspapers and local advertising.

The culture, media and sports secretary, pictured left, visited the North Yorkshire town yesterday where he toured of a local college and gave an in-depth interview to the Evening News.

Editor Ed Asquith asked Mr Burnham for views on the fact there are three council-funded newspapers in the Evening News’ patch, run by North Yorkshire County Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Scarborough Borough Council.

He replied: “I want to use the gathering in London on 28 April to put this issue on the table and to make sure the Local Government Association is represented to be asked about the issue.

“One part of the package could be for the Local Government Association to develop a guideline. On the issue of local councils, it is firstly about what they are doing and are they encroaching? And secondly, could councils play an enabling role?

“The council issue is for councils to decide but clearly there are hard questions to be asked about whether it is appropriate for their communication or for their marketing.

“There are 50 or so newspaper titles closing this year. The issue of council newspapers is top of my in-tray at the moment. There has to be a balance and councils are overstepping that.”

During his visit to, Mr Burnham also touched on the BBC and the subject of government advertising.

He said the issue of whether the Government could increase ad spend to local papers and away from billboards and bus stops was a valid one.

He added: “We are also looking at the role of the BBC as a public service broadcaster and what role it could perform. If the future of papers is developing audio and video, could access to the BBC help? Could the BBC help improve web offerings?”

  • Earlier this week the Society of Editors and Newspaper Society submitted a wide-ranging action plan to ministers over the future of local journalism and yesterday it emerged the BBC was considering content sharing.
  • Comments

    the dark side (27/03/2009 11:53:39)
    Councils cant win. They had to provide a publication under their remit

    FAST WOMAN (27/03/2009 12:43:20)
    Yes, poor little councils having to publish newspapers under their ‘remit’, eh Dark Side?
    They’ve had to employ ad reps, issue media packs for potential advertisers, canvass and steal advertisers already using the traditional press and lure them away with ridiculously cheap deals that a commercial operation can’t match.
    The councils have had to put up massive promo hoardings & bannners for their ‘newspaper’ across the borough they supposedly serve (including sites where commercial advertising would never usually be allowed).
    They’ve had to cover – with both words and pix – Premier League football matches and gigs by world-renowned bands (otherwise the ratepayers would never know what’s going on locally).
    And then, using vital local authority software packages like Photoshop and Illustrator, they have to produce and aggressively market publications branded ‘The LOCAL paper’.
    Thank goodness we don’t expect them to sort out education, tackle the housing crisis, or even empty the bins properly.
    Dark Side – by all means expose the negligence of the big newspaper groups in cutting their own operations to the bone – so allowing the council rags room to flourish – but don’t just trot out that ‘we had to do it’ tat.

    Insider (27/03/2009 14:03:55)
    Local papers should not have bit the hand that fed them. Charging council huge amounts for ads is what has driven them this way.

    Hacked off (27/03/2009 16:05:54)
    It is scandalous that local councils are diverting taxpayers’ cash into propaganda sheets self-reporting what wonderful jobs they’re doing. This is another blatant step away from basic democracy, like many others under our present corrupt Government.

    Another Northcliffe Old-HAnd (27/03/2009 16:29:04)
    Insider is right …. just like the estate agents, motor dealers and sits vac advertisers. If you abuse a monopoly you eventually lose it!