The government has been accused of “going soft” on town hall pravdas after scrapping a deadline for two councils to stop publishing fortnightly newspapers.
Ministers had ordered Waltham Forest and Hackney councils to comply with guidelines restricting local authorities to publishing newsletters no more than four times a year.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid had threatened both councils with court action in November for breaching the guidelines by continuing to publish their newsletters Waltham Forest News and Hackney Today every two weeks.
But the newly-rebranded Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has now withdrawn its 6 February deadline for compliance after both authorities made representations on the matter, with Mr Javid now considering which steps, if any, to take.
Waltham Forest News is distributed to 97,000 households in an area covered by the Waltham Forest Echo and Waltham Forest Guardian, while Hackney Today has a print distribution of 108,000 in a borough already served by the Hackney Gazette and Hackney Citizen.
Echo editor James Cracknell, pictured, criticised the Waltham Forest News in a December editorial, describing the publication as being comprised “almost exclusively of local government propaganda” and spreading “fake news”.
He told HTFP: “It’s disappointing if it’s a case of the government no longer clamping down on it and going soft again. It seems a bit strange. Before Christmas it looked like they were finally going to enforce this rule.”
“It’s frustrating when every other council has understood what the issue is and have complied. Why they think they’re special and should be able to carry on with it at Waltham Forest beggars belief.”
Citizen editor Keith Magnum, who has previously accused Hackney Today of being “unfair competition”, said: “The years of back-and-forth between the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Hackney Council have so far failed to address the ongoing issues regarding the local authority’s use of public resources, and its financial impact on local journalism.
“We believe Hackney Council is using public resources to compete unfairly with local news publishers and starve independent local journalism of the revenue it needs to survive.
“Last year, a London Assembly report on ‘The Fate of Local News’ concluded: ‘Local newspapers have, in some cases, been negatively affected by local authorities regularly publishing their own newsletters. While these newsletters have their place, they should not be a substitute for local news.’
“We hope the government and Hackney Council will finally match their words about supporting local journalism with action – the sooner, the better.”
A MHCLG spokesman said: “Hackney and Waltham Forest had until 5 January to make representations and have done so. The Secretary of State is now considering what next steps to take.”
A Hackney Council spokesman said: “After further correspondence, the Secretary of State gave Hackney the opportunity to make further representations before making a final decision about whether to issue a direction, and we are awaiting his response to those representations.
“Hackney has argued, as we have done many times, that Hackney Today provides us with a highly effective, and cost effective way of engaging with and informing Hackney’s diverse communities, and that to reduce frequency would increase our costs and damage our ability to communicate with our residents.”
HTFP has also approached Waltham Forest Council for a comment.