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Tories slam undemocratic’ Town Hall subsidised newspapers

PUBLISHED: 07:00 05 March 2010 | UPDATED: 15:40 05 October 2010

TORIES will force town halls to come clean’ if they win the General Election over how much taxpayers’ money they’re pouring into their own publications which compete in the market with local newspapers. Shadow Local Government Spokesperson Caroline Spelman condemned “taxpayer funded media” in her speech to the Newspaper Society

By Mike Brooke

TORIES will force town halls to come clean’ if they win the General Election over how much taxpayers’ money they’re pouring into their own publications which compete in the market with local newspapers.

Shadow Communities & Local Government spokesman Caroline Spelman condemned “taxpayer funded media” in her speech to the Newspaper Society yesterday.

She pledged a Conservative government would tighten the Local Authority Publicity Code so that any council output was focused on services and would not compete with the independent local media.

Previous changes to the Publicity Code had “opened the floodgates” of councils entering the media market with weekly publications and even local TV subsidised from taxes. Local authorities were now spending £430m on council publicity, she noted.

The Conservatives would demand councils publish online “exactly what they’re spending” with a full breakdown of print costs, design and delivery, and editorial.

Public notices, such as planning notices, must also continue to appear in the independent free press, she stressed.

Tax-funded council weeklies first appeared in London’s cash-strapped East End when Tower Hamlets Council began its East End Life,’ which was condemned in a Commons debate earlier this year as “unfair competition” and an “attack on local democracy.”

It rivals the long-established East London Advertiser which has been battling for two years to find out its true cost to taxpayers. Much of it is hidden in creative council book balancing between departments, shifting funds from front-line services for advertising revenue’ to cover the true cost, thought to be around £1.5m a year.

The Advertiser regularly receives correspondence from residents furious at the subsidies the Town Hall is pouring into the publication distributed every week to 90,000 homes.


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