AddThis SmartLayers

Pickles threatens court action over council newspaper

Kris Hopkins Ministers have threatened court action against a council which has continued to produce its own weekly newspaper in defiance of government guidelines.

As previously reported on HTFP, the Royal Borough of Greenwich has defied Communities Secretary Eric Pickles over the publication frequency of its Greenwich Time newsletter.

The Department for Communities and Local Government says local authorities should print newsletters no more than quarterly, and Greenwich has now been directed to adhere to the order by 31 March.

If it refuses, it is understood that the government will seek a court order against the council forcing it to comply.

The move was announced to MPs by Kris Hopkins, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, pictured above.

The authority now has until 12 February to make representations to Mr Pickles about the proposed direction, while other councils publishing newsletters at a greater frequency than quarterly may also face similar action in future.

In September five local authorities were told by Mr Pickles to scale back the frequency of their newsletters or face legal action.

The Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which limits the publication of council newspapers to four per year, was passed into law in January 2014.

Mr Hopkins said in a written Commons statement: “The Coalition Government is committed to protecting an independent free local press. Localism and a healthy local democracy requires not just scrutiny by councillors, but also by the press and public.

“The Government has sought to take action on the practice by a small number of local authorities to publish local authority newspapers, which push out and undermine an independent press, and which constitute an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money.

“We are prepared to use our formal legal powers to intervene wherever it is in taxpayers’ interests and those of a free and fair local democracy.

The statement can be read in full here.

Earlier this month it was revealed the net cost of producing Greenwich Time in the financial year 2013/14 was £102,001.11.

Responding to Mr Hopkins’ statement, a Royal Borough of Greenwich spokesperson said: “The Council can confirm that it has received another letter from the DCLG stating that it proposes to direct us to cease publishing GT with effect from 31 March 2015. The Council will consider the contents of the letter and will respond in due course. 

“We have a legal duty to publish statutory notices about matters such as planning applications, highways and traffic information which incurs heavy advertising costs for local authorities. 

“Producing our own weekly newspaper remains the most cost-effective way of fulfilling this duty and making sure every household in the borough receives the information, plus essential information about housing, jobs, council services and local news.

“We remain committed to keeping costs as low as possible whilst aiming to ensure the whole borough can receive the information above. 

“We are currently conducting a procurement exercise allowing us to fully examine the costs of all options and cannot comment further on that on-going process.


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • January 30, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Seems to me the council has a point. Too many local newspapers are simply not read by the local population. Yet they still charge full market rates to councils – because they have them over a barrel. Too many local newspaper groups want to push out inferior products by over-worked, under-trained, low paid staff but want to charge top dollar… That’s in part why the estate agents left…

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(2)
  • January 30, 2015 at 10:04 am

    There should be a Hypocrite of the Year award for people like Pickles.
    Why can’t council tax payers be allowed to read different points of view and make up their own minds?
    Why does the government in London have to censor what is printed in provincial towns and cities?
    Would Pickles object if there were Conservative councils in these places running these publications? I doubt it. He talks about freedom of speech for Russia, but doesn’t want to practise it in his own back yard.
    These council news sheets provide better paid jobs for journalists, may of whom have been made redundant from skinflint monopoly provincial newspaper groups.
    The council publications certainly paper over the cracks, but the fight should be to change this, present a more balanced viewpoint, rather than suppress them altogether.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(2)
  • January 30, 2015 at 10:30 am

    balls! Pickles is odious but he is right here. the same council will be cutting social care while publishing. This is not the job of a local council. Stick to schools, roads, lighting etc.

    If grassroots news is demanded the market will provide probably in the shape of a not for profit news company online – the future of local news.

    I’ve worked on these publications – total flannel and a vehicle for cllrs to push party politics and raise their profile.

    Yes by all means publish and communicate information – opening times, new playground etc but this can be done simply and cheaply online and in notice form.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)
  • January 30, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    what this does show is the total lack of confidence on local papers. They can’t take on a council newspaper?
    Once upon a time they would have just shrugged their shoulders and carried on.
    Having made fatal policy decisions that cost sales galore, they want to be bailed out. What a scene!

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)
  • January 30, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    It uses taxpayers’ money to produce a propaganda sheet while paying itself sheds loads of taxpayers cash for public notices which it prints for itself.
    If it could print money, it would.
    Sooner it’s shut down and the one in Lambeth, the better.
    Local press can bit for the notices and has to get its house in order to do so, but at least it holds the council to task which these publications clearly don’t.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)
  • January 31, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Pickles forced the closure of Nene Valley News, for about two weeks, it is still out there, full of council ‘news’. Now owned by an ‘independent’ company!
    The only real answer is for voters to put their ‘X’s in the appropriate place and for local newspapers to continually point out that these, ‘newspapers’ are being subsidised by the councils and that the advertising they get is also being subsidised by they council tax payer. So as a business owner in the area you are paying twice, once with your council tax and once for the space you buy.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)