Written evidence submitted by the London
Borough of Hackney
This submission is made in light of the recent
evidence session held with council representatives on the impact
of local authority publications on local and regional media.
1.1 Hackney Council publishes a fortnightly
newspaper. We believe that it is the most effective way to ensure
that as many of our residents as possible are kept informed about
the Council's activities and services. It also offers good value
for money for the tax payer. We do not believe that it is having
a negative impact on the area's independent local newspaper, and
indeed, an innovative cross borough print procurement has led
to not only a significant reduction in print costs for four councils,
but the award of a £4 million four year print contract
to Trinity Mirror, thus showing how councils can continue to support
the newspaper industry whilst producing their own publications.
2. LONDON BOROUGH
2.1 The borough of Hackney is a densely
populated inner London borough. It is one of capital's most vibrant
cultural and creative places, as well as being on the doorstep
to central London, close to multi-national financial institutions.
It is a young borough and is home to people from many different
backgrounds. It has the second highest number of people living
in poverty in the country although no areas are particularly poor
2.2 Hackney Council, under the leadership
of Mayor Jules Pipe, is one of the most successful and ambitious
local authorities in the country. It is efficient and well-run,
and is delivering efficiency savings, investment in services and
innovative solutions for the benefit of residents and tax-payers.
It is set to freeze its Council Tax for the fifth year running,
the only council in the country to ever have achieved this.
3. ABOUT HACKNEY
3.1 Hackney Council produces its own newspaper,
Hackney Today, which is distributed by to 108,000 residents
and businesses on a fortnightly basis. It is hand delivered; achieving
a 91.1% successful distribution rate (this has increased from
82.52% with a new distribution company since June 09). Bulk drops
are also made to libraries, doctors' surgeries and supermarkets.
3.2 The cost of producing Hackney Today
is covered for by paid for by advertising, from internal Council
departments, third sector partners and private sector organisations.
Approximately two thirds of this income is from external advertisers,
mostly public sector partners such as the NHS, housing associations
and other local service providers.
3.3 The Hackney Gazette is the area's local
independent newspaper, published weekly by Archant and sold for
50p. It has a circulation of 8,000. The Council has a good relationship
with the Gazette, which regularly contains a variety of news about
the Council. It also supports Archant group through sponsorship
of its business awards schemes such as the Thames Gateway Business
Awards and the Archant Environment Awards.
3.4 An innovative joint print procurement
between four East London councils, including Hackney, has made
savings of around £100,000 a year for each council.
Trinity Mirror, who have been one of the most vocal critics of
council newspapers, bid for and won this £4 million
print contract. This is a way that some councils are continuing
to inject funds into the newspaper industry even if they are no
longer doing it through the traditional medium of regular advertising
4. SUPPORT FOR
4.1 We believe that Hackney Today is an
efficient, cost effective and environmentally-friendly way for
us to inform our residents of the services we and other local
4.2 Councils are obliged to use resident
communications to affect behaviour change, such as increasing
recycling or cutting litter, and we have a duty to promote community
cohesion, highlight local success stories, and to shape the reputation
of our area.
4.3 Where they are distributed door-to-door,
such as in Hackney, council newspapers provide a guaranteed way
of reaching almost every resident, something paid for local newspapers
could never achieve, particularly now with their falling circulation.
Our fortnightly paper also prevents the use of numerous different
leaflets to promote new services or consultations, thus saving
money and paper.
4.4 Furthermore, council newspapers can
and should have a strong equalities agenda, reaching out to the
broadest cross section of communities to promote equal access
to services. In deprived areas where digital access is lower,
paper communications still have the strongest impact, and a regular
newspaper is the most effective way of reaching residents from
across the socio-economic spectrum. This is particularly significant
in diverse boroughs like Hackney.
4.5 Council newspapers provide value for
money for residents, something we are obliged to do. By selling
advertising space to public sector partners and local business,
councils can offset the cost of communications. As more publications
become self-funding, the better deal the taxpayer is getting.
Without these newspapers, other more costly ways of getting the
same information to residents would need to be found. Hackney
Council does not target the Hackney Gazette's core advertisement
base of classified ads, local jobs, and local announcements, and
believes that it would be inappropriate to do so.
4.6 In many areas local newspapers are failing
to change with the times, to keep up with changing demographics
and face threats from an increasingly successful ethnic media
sector, as well as on-line news. We feel this is the real story
behind the decline of local titles, and laying the blame on local
authorities is simply a red herring that will not help them to
resolve these problems in the long term.
4.7 The Council has a legal obligation to
publish its statutory notices in a local newspaper. For many years
the local commercial newspaper industry had a monopoly on this
income stream and set very high charges for these advertisements.
By placing our statutory notices in our own publications, the
Council saves between £40-50k per year which can be offset
against the cost of Hackney Today.
4.8 The net cost of Hackney Today to the
Council is around £160,000 per year. This is equivalent
to around £1.60 per household, or 6 pence per issue.
5.1 Hackney Council believes that the decline
in the local newspaper industry has many causes, including the
rise of free commercial newspapers (this has been significant
in London in recent years), the rise of on-line news media and
advertising and in many cases the failure of local newspapers
to keep up with the changing demographics of the areas they serve.
It is a national trend, whereas the production of a regular fortnightly
or weekly council newspaper is still restricted to mainly London
boroughs and a few other metropolitan areas. Most councils still
produce quarterly or bi-monthly magazines, which are better suited
to counties and rural districts. To blame the decline of regional
and local newspaper on councils is to completely ignore the fundamental
reasons for the decline, which goes hand in hand with the dismantling
of regional news by commercial broadcasters such as ITV.
5.2 It is unclear whether local newspapers
feel they are losing out because councils are a) poaching their
advertisers or b) withholding council advertising revenue. In
the latter case it is absurd to suggest that any commercial organisation
has a moral right to an income stream from the public purse, merely
because they have come to rely on it over the years. It is incumbent
on councils to find the most cost effective ways to communicate
with residents rather than to prop up failing industries. Hackney
Council also believes that it is unfair for council newspapers
to aggressively target the advertisers of local papers and to
set themselves up in deliberate competition. This has only happened
in a very few cases and it has been to the detriment of the sector
and its reputation.