Councils given final warnings on newspaper publication

5 Dec 16

Local government minister Marcus Jones has issued a final warning to three authorities to cease the publication of council freesheet newspapers more than four times a year or he will need to intervene to limit them.

In an update on government action intended to boost the local press, Jones said that three London boroughs – Hackney, Newham and Waltham Forest – continued to publish council newspapers on a fortnightly basis.

This is despite the Department for Communities and Local Government setting out rules in a publicity code intended limit publication to quarterly.

Jones announced the government would also give local newspapers a £1,500 business rates discount.

It was important to support an independent free press, which is vital for local democracy, and the business rates discount would make a real difference to their overall running costs, he stated.

“Equally, councils shouldn’t undermine local democracy by publishing their own newsletters, more often than quarterly. I’m offering the small number that aren’t playing by the rules this last chance to put their publishing houses in order or I will use my powers to require them to do so.”

DCLG highlighted that the vast majority of councils comply with the publicity code, with Luton Borough Council recently becoming the latest council to do so. Tower Hamlets also stopped its weekly publication following the intervention of the government-appointed commissioners.

However, a small number continue to flout the rules, DCLG said and communities secretary Sajid Javid has the power to issue a direction requiring a specified authority to comply with some, or all, of the publicity code.

Jones has therefore written “minded to” direction letters to the authorities setting out proposed direction on the publicity code. The three councils now have 14 days to make any further representations to the secretary of state.

Responding to the letter, a spokesman for Waltham Forest confirmed it had been received. “We will be responding to this letter by 15 December, as requested by the department,” he added.

“The council will again outline why Waltham Forest News – which reaches all 97,000 households in our borough – is legally compliant and provides the best value for money for local taxpayers while the government continues to insist that we pay to publish statutory notices in a frequently published newspaper.”

Hackney and Newham have been contacted for a response.

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