Should the taxpayer foot the bill for The News?

THIS WEEK Barking & Dagenham Council s paper, The News seems to have changed its spots! From being a stated Village news sheet brought out to spread the good news in the borough and the council s achievements, the latest edition carried details of the g

THIS WEEK Barking & Dagenham Council's paper, The News seems to have changed its spots!

From being a stated 'Village news sheet' brought out to spread the good news in the borough and the council's achievements, the latest edition carried details of the gruesome fire in Dagenham that police are treating as a murder investigation.

It begs the question is that the type of good news a 'village news sheet' would carry?

I don't think so. That is the Post's territory, we are a newspaper and report without fear or favour everything that goes on in the borough - that is our job.

So I feel justified questioning once again the Council's intention in producing this publication. Last time I asked, the written reply was 'The community newspaper is not seeking to compete with local newspapers but to address our residents demand for timely information in a format which meets their needs.'

I have to say these words sound very hollow now but not solely for that reason.

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Withdrawing public notice adverts shows the 'not competing with local newspapers', to be similarly hollow, and now I understand from inside the authority, heads of departments who use the Post to publicise their services, have been told everything has to go in 'The News' from now on.

Some other inside information that landed on my desk recently is the council is now looking at approaching Estate Agents and Motor Traders for adverts.

At a time when Barking and Dagenham Council is publishing budgetary deficits, is this the first sign this venture is too expensive and needs a change of direction into the commercial for funding?

When launched, we were told the publication would actually save money, so what is happening?

This authority is using public money to not only publish its own 'good' news, but now apparently intend to emulate the Post's coverage of the borough, thus entering into a whole new world outside the remit of a Local Authority.

This should be ministering to people's needs and services and certainly not something the Post and newspapers throughout the world have been successfully doing for centuries.

The writing is already on the wall as councils up and down the country are dumping these publications as too costly, the latest being neighbouring Thurrock. As one councillor put it to me, 'public money should not be spent on propaganda but what councils are supposed to use it for, services for their residents.'

Maybe this gruesome news item slipped under the wire by mistake, but the direct intention to enter the commercial market and compete with the independent press is definitely not.

The whole subject of local authorities using public money in the commercial world could be fraught with danger, particularly as more experienced companies world wide are financially crashing. It begs the question would the News carry the story of the receivers being called in to the Civic Centre?

I have asked under Freedom of Information for the current costings and income and editorial directional intent. In April the annual cost to produce the News was �568,350, but the declared budget depended on savings by closing other council publications. With salary increases and the proposed savings seemingly not being realised, it seems as if the original calculations may have been over stated.

Perhaps it is time for a courageous decision before it is too late. Providing public services is the Council's job. Real news, factual and unbiased reporting is ours.

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