Why are the Conservatives opposing Wirral Council’s monthly Wirral View newspaper but not as vocal about Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s bi-monthly Hot News magazine?
I watched the Sunday Politics show today in which Cllr Lesley Rennie states of Wirral Council’s Wirral View newspaper, “It’s a complete waste of public money.”
The presenter states, “Government rules state that any council papers can only be published quarterly but this one here has been printed every month.”
Later in that segment, Cllr Matthew Patrick states, “We’re actually spending less and being able to put money back into the Council for services.” In response to a further question he states, “We have a free press on the Wirral, it’s a great press and they hold us to account as they should do.”
Let’s just deal with these two issues, the legal one about the status of the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity and then Councillor Matthew Patrick’s curious comment about costs.
The legal situation is clear, Local Government Act 1986, s.4(1) states, “The Secretary of State may issue one or more codes of recommended practice as regards the content, style, distribution and cost of local authority publicity, and such other related matters as he thinks appropriate, and local authorities shall have regard to the provisions of any such code in coming to any decision on publicity.”.
Here’s a letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government to Chief Executives reminding them about this.
The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity is clear on frequency as in paragraph 28 it states, “Where local authorities do commission or publish newsletters, newssheets or similar communications, they should not issue them more frequently than quarterly, apart from parish councils which should not issue them more frequently than monthly.” Just to be clear, Wirral Council is not a parish council.
The letter referred to above also refers to the Secretary of State’s power to direct compliance with the Code and the Secretary of State’s power to come up with legislation requiring local authorities to comply.
With regards to the financial point, section 4 of the Cabinet report about the Wirral View newspaper outlining the costs states the net cost (after advertising is taken into account) is £79,980 this financial year, £152,160 next year, £143,580 in 2018-19 and £134,142 in 2019-20.
If the advertising targets aren’t reached the costs will be higher. However, just to be clear the amounts expected from advertising are lower than the costs meaning there is no money from it to “put back into the Council for services”.
However, a point that hasn’t been made so far, is that the Code also applies to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. Cllr Lesley Rennie is one of the four Wirral Council representatives on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. Recently councillors discussed a bi-monthly colour magazine it produces called “Hot News” (the January-February 2017 issue can be read on their website).
So if Cllr Lesley Rennie is complaining about Wirral Council’s publication of Wirral View, why has she been so quiet about Hot News? Below is video of a public meeting of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority when Hot News was discussed where Cllr Lesley Rennie is sitting next to a councillor talking about Hot News.
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