Newspaper Society to meet with Eric Pickles amid pressure on Tower Hamlets council publications

The Newspaper Society is set to meet with communities secretary Eric Pickles to discuss council-run newspapers against a background of increased scrutiny over their publication.

The meeting was announced just days before the results of an Advertiser request under the Freedom of Information Act into the cost of producing Tower Hamlets Council’s weekly paper, East End Life.

The results showed that the total editorial staff costs on the paper are �218,000 per annum. The 4.6 core editorial staff are each on remuneration packages of more than �47.500 per annum.

According to Prospects, the UK’s official graduate careers website, the average salary for all journalists is �24,500.

Tower Hamlets’ head of media, Kelly Powell, said of the wages: “East End Life staff are paid in line with salaries across the council and indeed across the public sector.

“We know these salaries are higher than some in the newspaper industry but staff salaries reflect the skills required to run a popular and well-read council publication.”

The Newspaper Society is continuing to push for further action on the matter after Mr Pickles vowed to place regulation of such publications on a statutory footing.

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Spokeswoman Lynne Anderson said: “The NS is to meet with Eric Pickles to discuss his proposals to crack down on councils such as Tower Hamlets which continue to publish aggressive council newspapers in defiance of the publicity code for local authorities.”

The council justifies its continued production of East End Life by arguing that its �1.2m budget is covered by revenue it receives from advertising. However, our FOI request reveals that 49 per cent of the revenue generated by the newspaper comes from internal advertising, meaning taxpayer-funded departments are budgeting to advertise in the council’s own publication.

Leader of the Conservative group councillor Peter Golds said: “The staff costs are unusually high. It’s farcical in many ways and needs to be stopped. It’s not a real newspaper - it’s a propaganda sheet.”

Labour group leader Joshua Peck agreed: “East End Life used to serve an important role informing residents about vital services and how the Council spends their money.

“However, many residents are concerned that the paper has become little more than a mouth piece for promoting the Mayor and, when he’s cutting frontline services, the paper is an expense they cannot afford.”