A local council has launched its own monthly newspaper in defiance of a previous government warning.
The first issue of Wirral Council’s publication Wirral View came out last week despite Local Government Minister Marcus Jones demanding reassurances in August that the authority would not press ahead with the project.
The Department for Communities and Local Government’s publicity code for all councils requires any such material not be published more than quarterly to ensure that “in each locality the independent local media does not face unfair competition”.
But the council has claimed there is a “solid business case” for the newsletter’s existence.
Councillors in opposition to the authority’s ruling Labour group have criticised the 32-page paper, which has been described as a “‘propaganda on the rates’ vanity project”.
Conservative group leader Cllr Jeff Green told the Globe: “As predicted this ‘propaganda on the rates’ vanity project has gone out of its way to put the best possible spin on several very political decisions. I am particularly concerned the cabinet member for children’s services has been given a platform to defend their abysmal Ofsted inspection without challenge.
“This was precisely our concern all along and we will be sending this ‘Town Hall Pravda’ to the Department for Communities and Local Government highlighting the many ways it has breached the Government’s publicity code.”
In response, Wirral Council head of communications Kevin MacCallum said: “Our residents’ survey last year told us we weren’t communicating well enough with residents. It’s almost impossible for the council to do its job well if its main customers – Wirral residents – do not know what services it provides and what help is on offer.
“This is why keeping residents well-informed is incredibly important and it’s why we made improving our communications a high priority.
“Community organisations, residents groups and charities have really welcomed Wirral View; similar to the council they see it as a chance to improve their ability to communicate with the people they are trying to help. We’ve been able to get this done without increasing what we spend on communications by a penny.
“Simply diverting advertising costs away from other channels has enabled us to massively increase our ability to communicate with residents. It is a solid business case, and I hope people will find Wirral View useful and informative.”
The DCLG is now considering whether to take further action against the council.
A spokesperson said: “Spending on council newspapers undermines the independent free press. We have been clear we expect all councils to comply with the local government publicity rules. If they do not we will consider what further action to take,”