Are Wirral Council’s Wirral View newssheet days numbered after 26 editions?
Wirral View started (its first edition was in October 2016) after a troubled start when the decision of former Cllr Matthew Patrick to start it was called in for scrutiny by councillors in 2016.
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ICO the regulator upheld Wirral Council’s refusal to release the legal advice relating to this departure from the Code in ICO decision notices FS50651166, FS50646730 and FS50646655.
Since then (according to Wirral View’s website) there have been 26 editions in October 2016, November 2016, December 2016, January 2017, February 2017, March 2017, June 2017, July 2017, August 2017, September 2017, October/November 2017, November/December 2017, December 2017/January 2018, January-February 2018, March-April 2018, May-June 2018, June-July 2018, July-August 2018, August-September 2018, October-November 2018, November-December 2018, December 2018-January 2019, February 2019, March 2019, May-June 2019 and June-July 2019.
However the Code on Recommended Practice on Local Government Publicity allows only for quarterly publication by councils such as Wirral Council.
Over the period October 2016 to July 2019 if Wirral View had only been published quarterly, that would mean 11 editions, not 26.
Two other councils in England that published newssheets, but unlike Wirral Council published these even more frequently on a fortnightly basis. These were the London Borough of Waltham Forest who published Waltham Forest News and the London Borough of Hackney that published Hackney Today.
After the government minister issued directions to both these councils (Waltham Forest and Hackney) that publishing more frequently than quarterly was unlawful, both councils challenged the decision through judicial review (there was a hearing over two days in late May 2019) and the decision resulting from that is published here. After losing their cases both councils requested permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, but permission to appeal has been refused.
On the 15th July 2019 councillors on Wirral Council voted 31:29 in a motion that “asks Cabinet to end its support for this publication”. The notice of motion also claimed that Wirral View had cost £402,000 so far.
The content for the Wirral View newssheet is generated in-house by Wirral Council, the printing contract was awarded to Trinity Mirror Printing (a trading name of Trinity Mirror Digital Media Limited) – the parent company owns one of the local newspapers the Liverpool Echo, the distribution contract was awarded to Smart Distribution Solutions Limited and the advertising contract to Let’s Go! Publishing Ltd.
The contracts for the printing, distribution and advertising the Wirral View all run from 1st December 2017 to 30th November 2020.
It remains to be seen whether Wirral Council’s Cabinet (the councillors on the Cabinet voted against the motion) will carry on with the existing contracts for printing, distribution and advertising the Wirral View to 30th November 2020 or end Wirral Council’s publication of the Wirral View earlier than November 2020.
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