Future for local and regional media - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents


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.  SUMMARY

  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 OF HACKNEY

  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 or wealthy.

  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 COUNCIL'S NEWSPAPER

  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 revenue.

4.  SUPPORT FOR COUNCIL NEWSPAPERS

  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 partners provide.

  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.  CONCLUSION

  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.

November 2009





 
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