Government minister Grant Shapps has appealed to Greenwich Council tax payers to complain to the district auditor about its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time, as a panel of councillors backed a decision to keep publishing it weekly.
A scrutiny panel endorsed a cabinet decision made in July to continue with GT, despite a new government code aimed at prohibiting council weeklies, and complaints from Conservative councillors claiming figures about how much the council supposedly saves by publishing the weekly were millions of pounds out.
Local government minister Grant Shapps told PR Week: “These papers exist to promote personal political agendas and not the interests of the public and I urge local residents to report these publications to the district auditor.”
Already planning a complaint is Eltham-based community magazine SE Nine. Publisher Mark Wall and editor John Webb claim GT has damaged their business by competing with it for advertisers, although the council is insistent it has not targeted the magazine’s clients.
Neither council leader Chris Roberts, nor any members of the cabinet who took the decision, attended the meeting, but assistant chief executive Katrina Delaney dismissed complaints that the newspaper was politically biased, or a mouthpiece for the leader.
“If you get a Marks & Spencer card, you’ll get Marks & Spencer’s magazine and it’ll cover Marks & Spencer’s view,” she said.
“The same with the gas board or BT or whoever. I think people understand it represents the views of the organisation.
“Greenwich Time represents the views that come from the decision makers at Greenwich Council.”
You can find out more about Monday’s meeting, and comment, over at Greenwich.co.uk.
I was among those who spoke at the meeting – I thought misgivings about the way Greenwich Time has handled the aftermath of the Woolwich riot needed putting on the record, rather than being ignored on here. If you’re interested, here’s what I told the committee. However, the discussion focused more on value-for-money and competition arguments rather than whether it was objective and even-handed, as the code demands.
Oh, and what if you want to complain about GT breaking the code? Write to Sue Exton, District Auditor, 1st Floor, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4HQ, or get in touch with the Audit Commission. That’s the same one the government wants to abolish, of course…