At a time when local government is facing some of the biggest challenges in our history, it is absurd that councils like ours should be forced to spend time and resources fighting for the right to communicate regularly with the communities we serve.
Yet we have spent nearly seven years having to do just that, as three successive communities secretaries have waged their futile war on council newspapers. Now it seems that Sajid Javid is desperate to push this issue to its legal limits, and has issued us both with directions that could well end in court proceedings.
Both our councils produce fortnightly papers. This saves us money, as we can carry our own statutory advertising. Quarterly publication, plus putting our statutory notices in a local newspaper and the additional communications we will need to produce, would cost us far more than we currently spend.
There is, by the Department for Communities & Local Government’s own admission, absolutely no evidence to back up their assertion that council newspapers are damaging the independent local press. They have spent the last seven years repeating the same tired assertions, and trying to defend their lack of evidence base.
Local newspapers are closing, up and down the country, and there is nothing to suggest that this is more severe in areas where councils publish more than four times a year. Some local areas have no physical newspapers left. This has not been caused by councils. It has been caused by the digital revolution, compounded by years of under-investment by newspaper groups in local titles.
As councils serving diverse and dynamic urban areas, we need cost-effective regular communications tools to get the information out there that local papers won’t cover; information on universal credit and prevent are good examples and post-Grenfell fire safety information to our many social tenants is another. Poverty, old age and disability can mean digital exclusion, and printed publications are still a lifeline to many. Our residents, right across the socio-economic spectrum, value our newspapers and the information that we give them.
It’s not just about information; our newspapers celebrate our diverse communities, give space to local projects, schools, charities and provide our partners with their only means of reaching every home in our boroughs. Sajid Javid says councils should be ‘genuinely engaged with and supportive of their communities’. He doesn’t have to look far to find councils that are striving to be just that, yet it seems he would rather continue with this pointless and politically driven dispute than open his mind to what works.
We are, of course, considering our legal options, but we would urge Mr Javid to drop this senseless action, head out east, and come and see the work we are doing to connect with our communities in these challenging times.
Philip Glanville (Lab), Mayor of Hackney and Clare Coghill (Lab), leader, Waltham Forest LBC