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Council continues to defy ministers over fortnightly paper

Greg ClarkA council is set to continue publishing its twice-monthly newspaper in defiance of government guidelines.

Waltham Forest Council has announced its intention to continue publishing Waltham Forest News, in spite of two fellow London boroughs recently bowing to Ministerial pressure and agreeing to reduce their own newletters’ publication frequency to quarterly.

As reported on HTFP last week, Greenwich Time, the official publication of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, will no longer be published weekly, while Tower Hamlets Council agreed in January to adhere to the guidelines.

In a report by the Newsquest-owned Waltham Forest Guardian, the newspaper claims the council is spending around £440,000 annually to publish Waltham Forest News 23 times a year.

It continued publication has been criticised by Matt Davis, leader of the authority’s opposition Conservative group, who told the Guardian: “It is being disingenuous when it suggests it is saving money, it is just not true. This is against government guidelines and a gross waste of taxpayers’ money.

“The council needs to stop screaming about terrible cuts but then wasting money on this. I am disappointed that the Government has come up with these guidelines but is not enforcing them, I will be writing to the Secretary of State to ask him to enforce the rules.”

The ongoing battle to get local councils to adhere to the guidelines was launched by the former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in a bid to clamp down on so-called ‘Town Hall Pravdas.’

Greg Clark, left, who took over from Mr Pickles at the Department for Communities and Local Government, recently told regional political journalists at a Newspaper Conference lunch council papers were “an abuse of public funds”, while last week a DCLG spokesman told HTFP such publications “undermine” the independent free press.

A spokesman for Waltham Forest Council said: “In March 2015, the secretary of state wrote to the council giving notice of the direction he proposed to issue in relation to the frequency of the publication of Waltham Forest News.

“In response, the council outlined why Waltham Forest News – which reaches all 97,000 households in our borough – is legally compliant and provides the best value for money for local taxpayers opposed to the Government’s insistence that we pay to publish statutory notices in a frequently published newspaper.

“To date, there has been no further correspondence between the secretary of state and the council.”


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  • March 29, 2016 at 10:28 am

    Would the editor of the Waltham Forest Guardian like to find out and explain how much the council spends on public notices and other adverts in his/her newspaper, and then report whether it is more efficient public spending to run a council ‘newspaper’ or to prop up Newsquest by spending thousands on paid for advertising.

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  • March 29, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Putting it through the door its message must reach more people than the Waltham Forest Guardian, surely in these days of diving sales. That’s the nub of the matter for the council.
    If local papers upped their game a bit in quality they would not need to be bailed out in this way. My own local paper (JP not Newsquest) consists of lots of council press releases, some of them obviously unedited and unchallenged by counter responses.

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  • March 29, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Surely the point here is that local authorities shouldn’t be spending council tax payers’ money on any kind of ‘newspaper’. Newsquest, and other publishers, are independent businesses operating in an open market. If their titles don’t work, then they will fail.
    Another unfortunate side effect is that the majority of local authorities that produce entirely appropriate information publications have had to jump through hoops because a few rotten apples spoiled the whole barrel.
    The simple answer is obvious, and lies with the council tax payers of Waltham Forest.

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  • March 30, 2016 at 1:56 am

    Pete’s hit the nail on the head. I don’t suppose the WF Guardian will put a figure to their advertising ‘hit’ as it rather undermines their position.
    HTFP could always ask – or better still, the council PR staff could just tell here.
    I used to be against the council newssheets but my view has changed. With redundancies now an annual fact of life – if not more frequent – we need every job we can muster. I bet the pay and working conditions are better too…
    And I’d just add there’s nothing noble in reprinting council press releases, which is what most of our regional papers have become.
    Challenging journalism left the building years ago.

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