Move to ban council tax-funded propaganda goes to Parliament

COUNCILLORS in Britain’s most deprived borough have tonight called on the local authority to scrap the weekly municipal ‘propaganda’ freesheet that’s costing their hard-hit taxpayers up to �4 million a year—and not wait for Parliament to force its closure.

New rules to stop council taxes being ‘squandered’ on town hall freesheets or hired lobbyists are now before Parliament, Secretary of State Eric Pickles announced today.

The Government is worried about a rapid growth in free council weeklies—while local papers struggle in a saturated news environment.

The trend was started in East London by Tower Hamlets Council, which is already facing �30m in cuts to services in the coming financial year.

Councils should redirect resources to protect front line services, especially with the recession bighting, Mr Pickles insists.

“An independent local press is an essential part of our open democracy, a vital part of local accountability,” he said. “But the rules around council publicity have been too weak—squandering public funds and pushing local newspapers into the abyss.”

The first municipal weekly in Britain was ‘East End Life’ set up by Tower Hamlets 15 years ago and is still pushed through the letter boxes of 90,000 properties, 50 times a year, costing an estimated �3 to �4 million annually, much if hidden in overall Town Hall running costs.

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Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman has asked council officers to begin a review into its future. The ‘review’ is going ahead with a public consultation—paid for out 0f Town Hall coffers.

“In these tough times we need to be sure all our services are providing value for money,” he said. “So I promise to scrutinise all the options carefully.”

But Opposition Tories have called for its immediate closure, rather than wait for legislation from Westminster.

Tory group leader Peter Golds wrote to Chief Executive Kevan Collins today, telling him: “East End Life in its current form will cease. The consultation on its future is challenged.

“This is a good example of money that can be saved immediately.”

The mayor will not have no ‘option’ once the new publicity code goes through Parliament, after today’s announcement from the Secteray of State, who insists councils need to “focus taxpayers’ money where it should be spent—protecting frontline services.”