Written evidence submitted by the Local
The LGA Group works with and on behalf of the
local government sector. The Local Government Association (LGA)
represents over 400 local authorities in England and Wales;
together these councils speak for over 50 million people
and spend £113 billion a year delivering services on
their behalf. For further details please see www.lga.gov.uk.
1. The Committee has sought views on a wide
variety of issues, which this submission addresses in the round
from the point of view of local authorities. Councils have a close
relationship with their local newspapers, and want to see a strong
local press undertaking more proactive scrutiny of local democracy.
The Role of Council Magazines
2. Many local authorities operate their
own newspapers as a means of communicating with the public. The
LGA has actively encouraged councils to do this since the launch
of our Reputation Campaign in 2005. This campaign aims to encourage
local authorities to improve their communications with residents,
and sets out five basic core actions for councils that are proven
to improve resident satisfaction when delivered wellone
of which is to produce a newspaper. More than 250 councils
have signed up to the campaign.
3. The Reputation Campaign was launched
following independent research conducted by Ipsos/Mori that showed
two-thirds of residents know nothing or next to nothing about
local government. This lack of knowledge is not confined to the
intricate workings of a town hallit extends to the full
range of services local councils provide. One of the biggest complaints
made about local government is that people feel a disconnect between
what they see as ever increasing council tax bills and what they
actually receive in return. The reality is that a typical council
is involved in 800 different activities, delivering a range
of services that are vital to keeping local people safe and secure.
4. A typical council magazine is distributed
three or four times a year, and 98% of councils say they produce
their magazine to provide information about public services; often
including police and health services. With the best will in the
world, the local media cannot provide the same amount of information
about how to access services as a dedicated council publication
can. Whether it is by providing a number to call to report nuisance
neighbours, offering information on how people out of work can
access training opportunities or featuring the work council staff
do to keep the streets safe and clean, only council newspapers
can keep residents fully informed about the services on offer
where they live.
5. Councils have recently come under fire
for competing with the local press by producing magazines. The
LGA strongly opposes this view, and supports councils' right to
communicate with their residents in a direct and value for money
6. The LGA's Analysis and Research team
(LGAAR) undertook a survey of local authorities to gather the
most up to date and informed picture of how, why and when councils
produce magazines. The results of this survey are enclosed as
a technical annex to this submission. The LGAAR survey supports
three statements about the relationship between council magazines
and the local and regional press:
Council magazines do not pose a threat to local
7. Local newspaper proprietors have argued
that council magazines take advertising that previously went to
local papers. Our survey does not bear this out. A quarter of
council magazines carry no advertising at all, and a third comprised
less than 10% advertising.
8. Council magazines are not produced frequently.
The Newspaper Society definition of a newspaper requires it to
come out once a week or more frequently. Over half of all respondent
councils produce a magazine only three or four times a year, and
79% up to only six times a year.
Local newspapers are suffering because of falls
in advertising revenue and the rise of digital platforms
9. The local newspaper business model relies
heavily on advertisingwhich accounts for 68% of turnover.
Advertising spend has been in a general decline in recent years
of between 10%-20%, but since the recession hit, key advertising
sectors such as housing, cars and jobs have plummeted. Newspapers
are also exposed in the trend towards advertising online. In 2007 all
media sectors except Cinema and Radio lost market share to the
10. The corporations that own the local
press are though seeing growth in revenue from digital and online
operations, for example Trinity Mirror has seen digital revenues
increase by 35.6% (£34.3 million) and 27% (£43.6 million)
in 2007 and 2008 respectively. In February 2008 Trinity
Mirror acquired £13million worth of new digital assets. Over
the same year (2008) the group closed 28 newspapers.
Councils want to work closely with their local
11. The LGA and local councils support a
successful and vibrant local media. It is essential for local
democracy that journalists scrutinise the workings of local councils
and help hold elected representatives to account. 20% of councils
in areas with struggling local papers have taken action directly
to help their local paper, usually through taking out longer term
advertising contracts or running campaigns in the local press.
Many councils also use distribution networks owned by the local
press for their in house magazines.
12. Statements of support for the local
press that were written in to the LGAAR survey by councils are
included at Annex A.
Statements of support for the local and regional
press from the LGAAR survey
"Newspapers form a vital part of
the local community and we recognise them as a key partner in
the work we do, often as a critical friend. They are invaluable
for getting messages out to the public and especially for consultation
and community engagement."
"We distribute our magazine with
a Newsquest title thus providing one of our two local weeklies
with a further revenue stream."
"We are a key sponsor of Newsquest's
Green Guardian environmental initiative"
"We are currently in conversation
with the only local newspaper on advertorial spreads and website
presence to continue to support the local media while maximising
the effectiveness and expenditure for the council."
"We work closely with our local
media. We don't do news, they do. They don't do Council information,
other than when it's news, we do. We don't take advertising, they
do. It's a good working relationship that we both understand."
District, East of England
"We rely on our local paper for
"One of our local papers moved out
of town to its neighbouring office. We met with the local group
editor to protest about the move and see what we could do to helpeven
offering them use of offices or the potential to use a new community
building we are constructing"