As previously reported on HTFP, ministers have threatened court action against the Royal Borough of Greenwich if it does not adhere to government guidelines designed to cut the frequency of council newsletters to quarterly or less.
After being asked to make representations about the order to the Department for Communities and Local Government, Greenwich described the direction as “ultra vires, irrational, and procedurally unfair”.
However Kris Hopkins, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has now revealed DCLG will continue with its 31 March ultimatum.
In a statement to Parliament, he said communities Secretary Eric Pickles had considered the authority’s representations, which were made during a 14-day notice period given following the order’s issue.
As well as requiring the council to cease publication by the end of the month, the direction also bans the council from outsourcing production of “any weekly newsletter, newssheet or similar communication by a third party”.
Mr Hopkins, pictured above left, said: “Within the period of 14 days following the notice, as statute provides, Greenwich council has made a number of representations.
“These included that in the council’s view there is no evidence that its weekly newspaper has an impact on the local independent press in the area, that the proposed direction would be ultra vires, irrational, and procedurally unfair, and that in any event the council would not be able to comply with such a direction by the proposed date of 31 March 2015.
“I can now tell the House that the Secretary of State has carefully considered these representations, together with other information available about the council’s publicity, the responses received to the government’s 2013 consultation Protecting the independent press from unfair competition, and the government’s response to that consultation.
“He has also had careful regard to the department’s equality statement on enforcing the code of recommended practice on local authority publicity, and has considered afresh earlier representations that the council had made about proposals to direct its compliance with the code to restrict the frequency of publication of its newspaper.
“The Secretary of State has concluded that it would be lawful and appropriate in all the circumstances of Greenwich for him now to issue the direction as he had proposed.”
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.
In January it was revealed the net cost of producing its newsletter Greenwich Time in the financial year 2013/14 was £102,001.11.
A Royal Borough of Greenwich spokesman said: “We have received a direction from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in respect of our residents’ newspaper, Greenwich Time. A report on the matter will be considered at the next meeting of the council’s Cabinet.
“We note that the Royal Borough of Greenwich is the only authority to be directed on this issue; this is despite a strong case presented by the Royal Borough in response to previous letters from the Secretary of State.”