Editorial staff at a council newspaper which has defied a crackdown on “Town Hall Pravdas” had average salary packages of more than £47,000, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
East End Life continues to be published every week by Tower Hamlets Council despite a code of conduct introduced by communities secretary Eric Pickles last year which aimed to limit them to four times a year.
The Archant-owned East London Advertiser has long been campaigning against the council publication and submitted an FoI request about the costs involved.
The results of this show that £218,000 was spent on staff costs, meaning the 4.6 editorial employees at the title were on average remuneration packages of more than £47,000 – a significantly higher sum than the market rate for journalists in the regional press.
But the council has said that the figure for staff costs covers a range of salary grades and includes payments for National Insurance, pension contributions and other costs.
The Advertiser reports that graduate careers website Prospects states the average salary for all journalists is £24,500.
Tower Hamlets Council has justified its continued production of East End Life by arguing that its £1.2m budget is covered by revenue it receives from advertising but the FoI showed 49pc of its revenue came from internal advertising, paid for by the authority’s own departments.
Editor Malcolm Starbrook told HTFP: “The council is always saying that the paper funds itself. But a large amount of its revenue earned is coming from its own internal departments.”
He added the publication had affected the council’s spending with the Advertiser, which had fallen off as the paper had made criticisms of the council.
Said Malcolm: “The council are seeing the Advertiser as the main critic of the way it operates and it has used its funding in a way to punish us. Public notices have tailed off along with spending on particular projects.
“Because local authorities are allowed to manage news and information in the way that they want to, it is detrimental to the community and local democracy. It is a threat to the future of local journalism.”
East End Life goes out to 100,000 homes each week, while the council has also produced other publications including a 64-page What’s On guide.
Some councillors have also spoken out against the publication, with Conservative group leader Peter Golds saying: “The staff costs are unusually high. It’s farcical in many ways and needs to be stopped. It’s not a real newspaper – it’s a propaganda sheet.”
Kelly Powell, the council’s head of media, said: “East End Life staff are paid in line with salaries across the council and indeed across the public sector.
“We know these salaries are higher than some in the newspaper industry but staff salaries reflect the skills required to run a popular and well-read council publication.”
A spokeswoman for the council added: “You can’t equate this figure directly into paid salaries as it includes National Insurance, pensions contributions and on-costs. This figure includes a range of salary grades.
“East End Life is budgeted to be produced at net nil cost to the taxpayer and is better value for money than the alternatives.”
The Newspaper Society is to meet with Mr Pickles to urge him to speed up plans to bring into law his code of conduct, which would limit the publication of council newspapers to four times a year.