Council still ignoring government rules by printing illegal "newspaper" - and it's costing us a small fortune

Tom Barnes, Waltham Forest Gazet

A leading think tank has criticised Waltham Forest Council for spending a “small fortune” on its newsletter, amid debate on how much the fortnightly freesheet costs taxpayers.
The local authority said last week a Government directive to stop publishing Waltham Forest News twice a month had been temporarily withdrawn after it has appealed against the order.

The Government says the newsletter is failing to adhere to the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, which restricts councils to printing a newsletter just four times a year.

It is understood the council made a written representation to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), claiming it should be exempt from the rules.

The council has previously insisted the freesheet offers taxpayers the best value for money as it does not have to pay to publish statutory notices in a local newspaper.

According to MHCLG figures, it cost Waltham Forest Council around £370,000 to produce 23 editions of the newsletter in the current financial year.

But despite this official document, the authority told the Guardian it only spent £125,000 on printing the paper last year.

It also told us this week that the paper received an advertising income of £516,000 in that time.

However, of that figure, £445,800 was designated “internal advertising”- notices from the council and other public bodies paid for by public money.

Just £70,000 came from private advertisers.

A Waltham Forest Council spokesman also seemed to suggest to the Guardian Series it factors £200,000 it would have spent posting statutory notices in local papers into its “internal advertising” income.

The Guardian Series asked for clarification from the council on this point, but received no response.

Meanwhile, John O’Connell, chief executive of campaign group the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said the council’s reluctance to comply with Government rules “rubs salt into the wounds” for residents.

Mr O’Connell said: “If the council is breaking the law, then it should stop that activity immediately.

“That the contravention of the law is also costing taxpayers a small fortune really rubs salt into the wounds.

“These sort of announcements should be produced as efficiently as possible and the council should look to newer technologies to cut down on what seems like a waste of money.”

Waltham Forest Council is one of only two councils in the country, alongside Hackney, still ignoring Government guidelines on how often it prints its newsletter.

Newham Council was also ordered to cut back on the number of times its freesheet was published in December 2016 and has since complied.

Luton Council agreed to publish its “Lutonline” paper quarterly in July 2016, while Tower Hamlets Council stopped sending out its weekly freesheet after the government intervened in the same year.
uploaded: Wed, Feb 14 2018
modified: Tue, Dec 30 1969