Birmingham city council’s £600,000 newspaper faces axe in costs row
Birmingham city council’s Forward newspaper could be axed as pressure on public spending grows.
Forward’s last edition appeared in June and city bosses will next month decide whether to make the suspension permanent or reduce publication and distribution.
Almost 400,000 editions of the free paper, formerly called The Voice, were delivered to homes, community centres and libraries every fortnight at a total cost of about £600,000 a year.
Council publications were initially set up as a vehicle for council job vacancy and public notice announcements, and thought much cheaper than paying to advertise in commercial newspapers.
But critics have slammed them as propaganda pamphlets allowing the council leaders to tell citizens how great they are.
Government Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw recently compared the local authority free-sheets to the former Russian Soviet state newspaper Pravda and asked why taxpayers’ money was wasted in this way.
Council newspapers in Doncaster, Cornwall and Lancashire have been closed or cut in recent weeks and Forward faces a similar fate when the council’s director of communications Debra Davis issues her report on council communications to the council cabinet.
In Doncaster the new Mayor Peter Davies saved £67,000 from his budget by scrapping the newspaper of which he said: “It is simply council propaganda and an exercise in distorting unpalatable truths.”
The trend is not all one way as North East Lincolnshire Council has diverted all advertising from mainstream newspapers to its monthly Linc Up title. Newspaper publishers have voiced concerns that public money is being spent on rivals to their titles – placing many at risk. Birmingham council’s newspaper has not escaped controversy.
Last year seven photographs of the council’s Tory leader Mike Whitby appeared on the first eight pages in one edition, prompting complaints from the Labour opposition, whose own budget article had been rejected from the publication.
It was also criticised for publishing mortgages and loan adverts aimed at sub-prime borrowers and admitted they had slipped through the net.
The print and distribution contract with Trinity Mirror ended in June and the council put the publication on hold.