As previously reported on HTFP, Wirral Council’s ruling Labour group had been forced to rethink its plans to launch the “town hall Pravda” after the opposition Tories called in the plan for review.
Now Local Government Minister Marcus Jones, pictured above left, has demanded reassurance from the authority that it will not press ahead with the proposed newsletter.
In a letter obtained by the council’s Conservative group leader Jeff Green, Mr Jones reminded Wirral that the publicity code for all councils requires any such material not be published more than quartrerly.
Mr Jones explained the code, set out by the Department for Communities and Local Government, was designed to ensure that “in each locality the indepdenent local media does not face unfair competition”.
Cllr Green claimed the newsletter will cost £270,000, and that a new £30,000 per year ‘news and content office’ role was being created in support of the venture.
He told the Liverpool Echo: “By concealing the existence of this letter from the committee, the cabinet has attempted to hoodwink the council and the taxpayers of Wirral into thinking all was going well with this vanity project.
“At a time when Labour councillors and their leader, Mr Corbyn , never stop banging on about austerity, we have a project that is not only costing £270,000 but is also opening the council up to an expensive legal battle with the government.”
In response, the council said it was launching the newsletter after market research carried out last year by Ipsos Mori showed that six out of 10 Wirral residents do not feel well informed about local services and community information.
A council spokesman added: “Cabinet was already well aware of the guidance contained in the publicity code but agreed that, such was the need for the council to communicate more effectively with residents, a departure from the code in relation to the frequency of this publication was justified.
“The DCLG letter was referred to at the call-in meeting [last month] and the council has since written back to inform them of our position and invite further discussion.
“The news and content officer vacancy was identified as part of a wider restructure of the council’s communications function. While the scope of the role will be broad, it does have a distinct responsibility for supporting the local economy by promoting Wirral as a place to invest, live and do business.
“They will contribute to the publication along with other members of the team, but it is totally inaccurate to suggest that they are being employed to ‘oversee’ its production.”