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Council newspapers are ‘abuse of public funds’ says Osborne

George OSborneChancellor George Osborne has claimed newspapers produced by local councils are an “abuse of public funds”.

Mr Osborne has hit out at what former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles termed ‘Town Hall Pravdas’, pledging a further clampdown on those which refuse to comply with guidelines on publication frequency.

The ministerial guidelines say council newsletters should be published no more than quarterly, with Greenwich and Tower Hamlets among those authorities which have been forced to comply.

However Waltham Forest Council has announced its intention to defy the ministerial edict and continue publishing Waltham Forest News as a fortnightly publication.

Writing on the Politics Home website, Mr Osborne said: “Weekly and fortnightly council free-sheets undermine a free local press, drawing away readers and advertising.

“They fail to investigate and scrutinise the conduct of the local authorities, and carry flattering reports on councillors’ work. Frankly, these sorts of publications are an abuse of public funds.

“So we have required them to be politically objective, balanced and published no more than once a quarter.

“Some councils aren’t complying – and I warn them that the government is prepared to take them to court if they don’t.”

Mr Osborne also reiterated his Budget pledge to introduce a business rate discount for local newspapers in England, which he says will mean a £1,500-a-year saving on the costs of that tax paid by local newspaper offices.

He added: “The campaigns, the scoops, even the ridicule holds power to account. Show me a country that controls its press and I will show you a government that controls its people.

“Every day in newsrooms journalists, editors and subs bring together enough information to fill the pages of War and Peace. The skill and the level of output is astonishing.

“It’s the irreverence of journalism; the challenging, sometimes infuriating, occasionally wayward, always invigorating journalistic spirit that makes a free society truly free. It’s vital that a strong local media continues to play its part in that in Britain.”


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  • May 11, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    Something fought for and won by the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) over many years. While the Council is pouring taxpayers money into their own biased mouthpieces, they are withdrawing advertising from local newspapers to stop independent news, CIoJ pointed out that local news is the birthplace of local democracy and a plinth for politicians to be involved in making their point to local people. Ermmm who then vote or decline too at their election time.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Quite right Gideon. But hang on….what about the £9m on your pro EU propaganda book?

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  • May 11, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I think we need to be careful about judging all council newspapers in the same way here. I have worked on both sides of the fence and am currently in local government and I fully respect and value the fact that all council spending and councillors should be held to account, especially by local press. I proudly helped to do so for 14 years.

    The issue in local government is that the local press tends to focus more heavily on a potential scandal – the cost of this, the cost of that, the ‘biscuit budget’…

    Despite a few bad eggs, there are lots of officers and councillors who genuinely work hard to help the public and it is much less frequently recognised as it doesn’t sell papers!

    This problem has been compounded by the sharp decline in newspaper print sales. In my own area, my paper sold 33,000 copies a day when I first started and it now sells less than 15,000 a week.

    What this means is that any ‘positive’ stories are competing for space. Not only that, but the web offering of most local publishers means that you’ll be lucky to get a slot on the homepage or news channel for a few minutes before being bumped off for a video of a cat.

    So, rather than hoping a press release gets us a nib on page 26 and 100 page views on the website, it is often much more beneficial to us to find a relevant interest group or page on Facebook and post a link to our own story there. We can post on Twitter, mention people who may have an interest in that subject and ask them to share with other like-minded people. We can get local bloggers on various topics to discuss raise and discuss issues with their interest-specific audiences. Most importantly, we now collect our own data on the public when they interact with us and can reach them with content of interest to them in numerous ways.

    All of this leads to far greater reach and engagement with way more people than the local press can provide today.

    In print, we are looking at ways to be more cost-effective in delivering own quarterly magazine which currently goes out to everyone in the county. Regardless of any political reasons for producing it, it reaches those who are not as digitally-savvy but the scary fact is that it reaches people in areas which the local paper is now failing to provide any local coverage for at all.

    Yes, there may be some horrific examples of ‘town hall Pravdas’ but, in amongst the varying amounts of spin, they are providing some positive information about what taxpayers’ cash is, or is not, being spent on and why. Whether you agree with the politics of it or not is up to you but you could say the same for some local newspaper coverage!

    The fact that local newspapers are becoming more unable to hold councils to account over all sorts of information saddens me, but the perception that council papers are all spin is far from the truth.

    It’s also quite interesting that local newspapers don’t concern themselves too much with how much taxpayers’ cash has to be spent in their public notices sections which, without doubt, no longer provide value for money! (and don’t get me started on most of those ‘pilot’ projects)

    Anyway, as I’ve said, councils are becoming much less reliant on traditional media and more and more dependent on their own websites, their own data, email, text and social media. So, quick question… when more local newspapers become unsustainable and, potentially, go online-only will this ire towards council newspapers suddenly shift to council websites, social media channels etc?

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