Council’s ‘propaganda rags’ attacked

NEARLY half-a-million pounds of Essex taxpayers’ money has been spent on council-run newspapers in the last three years, new figures have revealed.

Colchester, Tendring, Chelmsford and Braintree authorities have invested a total of �486,000 on their own newspapers since 2008.

The figures, which have prompted strong criticism, came to light following a Freedom of Information request by the EADT.

Chelmsford Borough Council was the biggest spender, forking out �200,000 for its quarterly publication since 2008.

Emma Boon, campaign director at The TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “These councils are complaining that they will have to cut services because money’s tight, but they should scrap things like these pricey council-run newspapers first.

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“Residents can find out what’s going on from their local newspaper or radio station, or by watching television or looking online, they don’t need these expensive propaganda rags.”

Yet councils have made some cutbacks to their newspaper budgets in light of the public sector funding squeeze.

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Tendring District Council has scrapped funding for its magazine, while Colchester will reduce costs by producing an online-only version. Meanwhile Chelmsford and Braintree have pledged to reduce the frequency they produce their publications.

A spokesperson for Chelmsford Borough Council said: “The council has a statutory duty to inform council taxpayers on how it spends their money, what services are available and how they can get involved in decision-making processes that affect them.

“Door-to-door distribution is the only way in which we can ensure we comply with that duty and reach everybody in the borough. Other communications methods are less effective and exclude certain groups within the community.”

Councillor David Bebb, deputy cabinet member for customers and communication at Braintree District Council said: “Council taxpayers rightly expect their council to communicate with them about the services for which they are paying.

“Thus we are much aware of the role of our council magazine in ensuring that all residents, whether or not they have access to the internet or read the local press, are informed about services and opportunities in the district.”

The figures come as local government secretary Eric Pickles published new guidelines restricting councils to publishing four newspapers a year.

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