More than 90pc of English councils are publishing their own newspapers – and almost half of them carry advertising, a study has revealed.
The Audit Commission today published the results of its long-awaited inquiry into council publications and whether they provide value-for-money for local taxpayers.
Although the commission concludes that the money being spent on council newspapers is “not unreasonable,” it calls on local authorites to ensure they are “politically neutral.”
The survey was ordered by ministers in the wake of last year’s Digital Britain report. Its findings and conclusions include:
Commission chief executive Steve Bundred said: “Communication is important to inform the public of the services councils provide and the functions they perform. The Audit Commission encourages the provision of information to improve accountability to taxpayers for spending.
“The money being spent by councils is not unreasonable, though they should always consider whether it provides good value.”
“The commission’s research has confirmed that 90pc of councils publish a periodical and that 47pc of them – some 150 publications in England alone – contain private sector advertising,” he said.
“It is quite wrong that local authorities should compete directly with independent regional and local newspapers for advertising revenue in this way.
“The commission’s recommendation, that councils review the value of their spending on communication with the public and their editorial policies to ensure these are politically neutral and publicly defensible, must be implemented.”
Sly Bailey, Trinity Mirror chief executive added: “The Audit Commission’s involvement has been a complete waste of time as we knew it would be. It was obvious they were the wrong body to assess competition in the local media market or the impact of local activities on commercial entities.
“The government should stop trying to pass the buck to bodies that cannot tackle the core issues and must take direct action and intervene immediately before it is too late for some local newspapers.”
The government has now asked media industry watchdog Ofcom to look into the impact of council newspapers on the local media.
Mr Bundred was originally asked to examine this issue as part of his inquiry but refused, saying it was beyond the Audit Commission’s remit.
rob (25/01/2010 14:23:38)
….Sly Bailey, Trinity Mirror chief executive added: “The Audit Commission’s involvement has been a complete waste of time as it did not come up with the findings we wanted. What the news paper industry really needs is for all competition to be outlawed and free rein to charge councils top-whack for public notices as we always have done. This revenue was once guaranteed and made it easy for newspapers like mine to turn a profit without having to innovate. As long as councils are required to print public notices, they should be requireded to print them in commercial newspapers at a full price. Not in council newspapers at a reduced cost to taxpayers. It simply is not fair. I am of course glad of the extra income generated through our printing presses because of the numerous contracts we have with local councils to print their mini pravdas. I can see no irony in my position as vocal opponent to and beneficiary of council newspapers.”
FAST WOMAN (25/01/2010 15:03:08)
Cough, cough, cough. Must be the numerous smokescreens. Does anyone think the big newspapers groups would give a damn about council papers (other than the easy money they get for printing them) if they were still enjoying the profit margins recorded in 2001-2008 when they began the process of shutting offices, slashed editorial staffs and merged or closed their under-resourced papers?
If Ofcom is to look into the impact of council newspapers on the local media it must be hoped that the whole landscape is put into context.
Fortunately, many of the council newspapers are produced by journalists and ad reps surplus to requirements by the regional press, so they should be able to provide some evidence.
Mr Pravda (25/01/2010 15:18:29)
June 2009, Sly Bailey warmly welcomes investigation: “Not before time the Audit Commission are to look at the travesty of local councils using tax payers money to masquerade as and compete directly with local newspapers. This must be tackled with a sense of urgency.”
Jan 2010, Sly Bailey does not like result: “The Audit Commission’s involvement has been a complete waste of time as we knew it would be. It was obvious they were the wrong body to assess competition in the local media market or the impact of local activities on commercial entities.”
Sub Yer Own Workk From Noww Om (25/01/2010 16:41:29)
Anyone else cease to read Sly Bailey’s views without smiling broadly…of course, it’s the council’s fault, it’s the Government’s fault…surely it’s nothing to do with years of underinvestment and bad management. Have you seen the elephant in the room yet Sly?!
Lord Diddly (26/01/2010 11:01:46)
What’s the problem? Writing council press releases pays more than pasting them into a local paper — the jobs are moving from papers into PR. The market is failing the consumer, so councils are stepping into the breach, and providing the humdrum local news that people want and need. We journalists get a genuine ‘watchdog of democracy’ type scoop once every 10 years and dine out on it for the next 10.
Mr Pravda (26/01/2010 13:21:02)
The problem, Lord Diddly, is that at the moment the big newspaper groups only have the print contracts for the councils’ magnificent organs. If the regional press chiefs could make more money by writing, designing and selling ads into them from one of their meeja hubs there would be no problem at all. All those arguments about saving democracy would be quickly binned.
quick buck (26/01/2010 15:45:32)
If local press had charged decent prices they would never have come up with the idea of own papers.
In Barking & Dagenham council paper has very few outside ads but plenty of public notices which would have cost in excess of £800 each to print in local papers.Simply greed.
Never bite the hand that feeds you!!!!!!!