A council planning to launch its own monthly newspaper in defiance of government guidelines has been forced to reconsider the idea.
Wirral Council’s ruling Labour group had been set to launch the “town hall Pravda” after its cabinet unanimously approved the plan.
But the Wirral Globe has reported that the idea will now go before a scrutiny committee after all 21 members of the authority’s opposition Conservative group signed a document to trigger a ‘call in’ procedure, which forces the council to review key decisions.
The document urges Labour to rethink the proposal – or risk wasting thousands of pounds in legal fees.
It states the Royal Borough of Greenwich, in London, spent £48,000 on legal fees unsuccessfully defending its publication Greenwich Time – the last council newsletter in the country to cease weekly publication following a government crackdown.
Current Department for Communities and Local Government guidelines state such publications should be published no more than quarterly.
The document reads: “We believe it is a costly miscalculation for the Labour cabinet to believe it is somehow above government guidance. Within the cabinet report and at the subsequent meeting there was absolutely no consideration given to the variety of successful community publications that operate across Wirral.
“We believe this shows a complete disregard for the years of hard work that a great number of community activists have given to Wirral and jeopardises the invaluable goodwill that the council relies upon to deliver its significant community engagement agenda.
“The Labour administration cannot control what these papers print and we are concerned that this may be the driving force behind the creation of this Town Hall Pravda.”
It concludes: “The government has shown it is committed to ensuring the independent free press does not face unfair competition from municipal publications. We believe cabinet’s disregard for recommended code of practice for local authority publicity is tantamount to Labour playing fast and loose with council taxpayers’ money.”
However, the idea has been defended by Kevin MacCallum, the council’s senior manager for communications and marketing.
He said: “Residents told us they wanted to be better informed; they told us they wanted more information about the services which are in place to support them.
“We have a duty to respond to this feedback, and make sure every resident – regardless of where they live – has access to up to date, current and helpful information about the public services which are available to them.
“We have to advertise and promote our services – we have to sell tickets at Floral Pavilion shows, we have to promote our leisure centres, to recruit staff, to encourage people to become foster carers – these requirements will never go away and they all cost money.
“This publication allows us to take some of this money and use it to get all of these important messages to many thousands more residents than we are currently able to. In our view this is a sensible and pragmatic proposal which will provide excellent value for money.”