A council newspaper in London is still being published every week in defiance of a government crackdown on ‘town hall Pravdas.’
Communities secretary Eric Pickles introduced a code of conduct last year which sought to limit the taxpayer-funded ‘freesheets’ to four a year, threatening court action against authorities which flout the guidelines.
However East End Life, published by Tower Hamlets Council, has defied the new rules despite continuing criticism from East London Advertiser editor Malcolm Starbrook, who says it is taking vital advertising away from the paper.
Malcolm told HTFP that Tower Hamlets has chosen to ignore the code of conduct after its lawyers said it had no legal basis.
Said Malcolm: “They took legal advice and as a result concluded that the code of conduct had no basis in law and therefore chose to disregard it.
“The decision was then to continue as they felt it offered value for money. We made a number of approaches to get more information about what constitutes value for money.”
The freesheet underwent a number of reviews following calls from councillors who said it was being published at a high cost to the taxpayers and was flouting the government guidelines
The last review saw the council cabinet decide to continue with the 40-page freesheet, which has a print run of 99,000 copies delivered to homes, organisations and businesses in the borough every week.
Malcolm is now considering an appeal to London MP and housing minister Grant Shapps to encourage the government to take a fresh look at the categories that form the rules surrounding town hall newspapers.
Added Malcolm: “I want ministers to come out and be a little bit more pro-active in bringing this forward.”
Malcolm said a story about misconduct by a councillor had been covered in just two paragraphs in East End Life.
He also said he has made four representations to the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, to discuss with him whether the Advertiser can help the council with its advertising but had received no reply.
Coun Rahman told HTFP: “I stand by our original decision on East End Life. Our residents have made it absolutely clear they want us to keep it. It’s by far the cheapest way of communicating vital news and it plays a huge role in bringing our community together.
“We have implemented changes to the paper that have reduced costs – we are aiming to operate at zero net cost by the end of 2012-2013 – and ensure it complies with the Government’s code of recommended practice for local authority publicity. It will also mean the council continues to meet its legal duty to inform residents about council services and to promote race equality.”
East End Life, which can also be read as an online publication, includes sport, job ads, an eating out guide, entertainment guide and Olympic news.
It is not the only council newspaper that continues to be published on a regular basis, Greenwich Time, published by Greenwich Council, is also published 50 times a year.