Eric Pickles, the local government secretary is right (I did not expect to be saying that) to call a halt to newspapers put out by councils. They have been drawing readers and advertising away from independent local newspapers.
At a time when the newspaper industry has very real problems with falling circulations and revenue, they don’t need to face further revenue and readership losses funded by council tax payers.
The BBC reports “anger” over the new publicity rules which are wider than restricting publishing.
New publicity rules were published by the Communities department yesterday, with Pickles saying:
An independent local press is an essential part of our open democracy and it is a vital part of local accountability, but the rules around council publicity have been too weak for too long squandering public funds and pushing local newspapers out into the abyss.
The news will be welcomed by the Newspaper Society which gave evidence to the Parliamentary communities select committee before Christmas. Lynne Anderson of the NS said 150 council publications took private advertising, and continued:
You don’t need your local council competing with you for scarce advertising revenues… those are the very ad revenues which keep journalists in their jobs. Councils should not be in the business of competing.
At the same time as welcoming the restrictions, it is hard to disagree with Russell Kemp, vice chair of the Local Government Association. He told the same committee hearing it was hypocritical of the Government to interfere in local government business while pushing the Localism agenda.
He also said local newspapers needed to up their game.
It is clear, to me, that local and regional newspaper coverage of councils has fallen over the years in both volume and quality. Perhaps, Mr Pickles will also be be contributing to improvementt by making local government a more controversial and important issue.
It does looks as if councils were already seeing the writing on the wall, as well as looking for ways to save money. Tower Hamlets is reviewing the future of its fat weekly East End Life. Lambeth, North Yorkshire, East Riding, and Hamersmith and Fulham have announced closure of their papers.