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Fresh skirmish in fortnightly freesheet battle

A local authority is stepping up its fight against Government moves to stop it publishing a free newspaper every fortnight.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles last week gave Waltham Forest and four other councils two weeks to explain why steps should not be taken against their weekly or two weekly publications.

Now a spokesman for Waltham Forest said the council believed it had strong reasons to publish fortnightly and that it was “entirely lawful to take this approach.”

He said: “We will be making representations to the Minister not to make the proposed statutory direction.”

The other authorities to receive letters were Greenwich, Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets.

New ministerial guidelines which took effect on 30 March are designed to restrict publication of rate-payer funded freesheets to four editions a year.

Mr Pickles said: “It is scandalous that bloggers have been handcuffed for tweeting from council meetings, whilst propaganda on the rates drives the free press out of business.”

The matter came to light after a complaint by the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ.

Under  last week’s move, councils are being told they could end up facing a court order requiring compliance if they do not act.

The department’s formal letters trigger the first legal steps the Secretary of State can now take to require compliance with the Publicity Code for local authorities, under the new Local Audit and Accountability Act.

The action is been taken against the municipal newspapers Hackney Today, the Newham mag and Waltham Forest News, all of which are published fortnightly, and Greenwich Time and East End Life, which are weekly.

The CIoJ originally raised the frequency of the council-run Waltham Forest News with the Department for Communities and Local Government.

It followed a complaint by CIoJ member Janice Shillum Bhend who lives in the borough.

She claimed that a letter had been written by parliamentary under-secretary of State Brandon Lewis to Waltham Forest council leader Chris Robbins telling him the publication should be less frequent than fortnightly.

The newsletter reportedly costs the taxpayer more than £480,000 a year to produce.

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  • April 23, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    I’m not sure it’s the council freesheets that will drive commercial papers out of business. I’d be interested to see Mr Pickles’ evidence on that one.

    That said, the cost to taxpayers is a worrying one in a time of huge cuts.

    Not a fan of Pickles, ecpecially after his pontifications about prayers at the start of council meetings. This ridiculous hocus pocus never fails to make me a grumpy so and so, as I listen to some modern day shaman implore his magic friend to grant councillors the wisdom to make decisions.

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