Local newspaper takes further swipe at council free sheet

Alice Richardson, Waltham Forest

Waltham Forest Council has revealed it is making nearly £145,000 in profit on its “illegal” newsletter.
In April 2018, the Secretary of State ordered the authority to cease publishing its Waltham Forest News freesheet twice a month.

Currently, the paper is failing to adhere to the act, which restricts councils to publishing newsletters just four times a year to stop them taking money away from the newspaper industry.

It has now been revealed that the council is spending more than £400,000 in internal advertising costs on the venture, which in effect is money being shuffled from one side of the council to the other.

But with this income taken into account, council officers revealed the paper and its communications department is making a £142,700 per year profit overall.

Council staff revealed the figure in a budget scrutiny meeting, saying the money spent on the paper’s production would “happen anyway”.

This is probably due to the legal obligation to display statutory notices publicly.

Usually, statutory notices such as planning decisions, council tax rates and other important council announcements would be placed in local newspapers and the income generated from those advertisements would support the local newspaper industry.

In 2017, the London Assembly’s August Economy Committee report said: “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.

“The Government’s intervention to clamp down on how frequently these publications are produced will help local newspapers.”

Waltham Forest Council is one of only three local authorities nationwide that are still refusing to abide by government guidelines on publication frequency; Hackney and Newham are the other two.

In June 2018, in a cabinet meeting, council leader Cllr Clare Coghill remained defiant of the government order and announced the council’s plans to take the Government to court to fight the case in a judicial review.

That judicial review will start on Wednesday May 22 and is expected to last two days.

A council spokesperson said: “We believe Waltham Forest News provides residents with reliable coverage of local news, information and events.

"It reaches every household in the borough and contains a thorough guide to what is happening in the local area for residents as well as information on how residents can access services and benefits that the council provides.

"It is also fulfils our legal obligations to print public notices in a fortnightly publication without having to spend taxpayers’ money on expensive advertising in the commercial press.”
uploaded: Tue, Mar 5 2019
modified: Tue, Dec 30 1969