The latest issue of the Council’s fortnightly freesheet, Hackney Today, carries the following message from Jules Pipe, Hackney’s elected Mayor:
“The Government this week announced plans to ban Council newspapers like Hackney Today, a move which could cost residents hundreds of thousands of pounds in higher taxes or lost services. The Government’s plan will limit the Council communicating with all its residents to only four times a year, and there will be stricter rules about when we can do so, and what we can say.
“Hackney Today has sometimes raised questions from residents, particularly about how much it costs the Council and therefore taxpayers to produce, and if scrapping it would save money. The truth of the matter, however, is that Hackney Today is the most cost effective way of communicating with local people. The Council is required by long-standing planning and other laws to publish as many as 1,500 public notices a year in a regular, local, printed newspaper. Without Hackney Today, the Council may have no other option than to hand over large sums of your money to other costlier publications to print our statutory planning and transport notices.
“Figures show that this change will cost the taxpayers of this borough several hundred thousand pounds extra a year which will have to be found from Council Tax or savings in Council services. The Government will not be giving us money for this extra cost, instead they have warned councils to expect cuts in Government grant of a quarter over the coming years.
“Using Hackney Today also means that we don’t have to spend thousands of pounds on leaflets every time we need to tell you about a service change. A good example is when a change is planned to a controlled parking zone at the request of residents. While door-to-door consultation will continue with the directly affected households, people from elsewhere across the borough will no longer automatically receive information on the proposal, or the decision.
“Between the community news stories in Hackney Today, there are many notices about vital services from the Council, Hackney Homes on housing issues, the NHS about health services, the Learning Trust on education, and from the police and many other local organisations. Their nature and number mean that no one could expect a regular local newspaper to be interested in carrying them as news stories – but the information will be vital to numerous people and so they need to be published by someone.
“The Government says that eventually they will change the law again to require that councils need only place information and statutory notices on the internet. However, in a borough like Hackney, this often means that the most vulnerable residents will be excluded as many people cannot easily get online. A recent survey showed that out of our 5,000 adult social care service users, including elderly and disabled people, only four per cent of them had access to the internet. Many of these people rely on the Council distributing information on community services for free, and direct to them through their door.
“I am very concerned that the Government’s proposals will mean we are forced into spending extra money at a time when frontline services need it most, and that you, our residents will have less access to information.
“You can respond to the Government’s consultation on this issue by writing to: Rosalind Kendler, Communities & Local Government, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London, SW1E 5DU, or by visiting [the Communities and Local Government website].”
Jules Pipe, elected Mayor of Hackney