Hackney Council has been ordered to stop publishing its taxpayer-funded newspaper “so frequently” or be taken to court by the government – on the eve of agreeing £1 million to fund the freesheet for the next four years.
The council has 14 days to agree to comply with the Publicity Code and cut Hackney Today back to quarterly publication or face court action, according to a notice sent by Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid.
It comes a day after the council’s Procurement Committee noted plans to award £1,382,000-worth of four-year contracts to pay for Hackney Today – £800,000 for printing costs and £582,000 for distribution – which are set to be approved in the coming weeks.
A Hackney Council spokesperson said: “We have received the notice from DCLG and we are carefully considering our options.”
When asked about the money, the council spokesperson said: “We are currently in a procurement process for both of these four year contracts – as per our previous statement, we are considering our options.”
Sajid Javid wrote: “An independent free press is vital for local democracy and it’s important that we support them in holding local leaders to account.
“Councils shouldn’t undermine local democracy by publishing their own newspapers more often than quarterly.”
He added: “While the majority of councils abide by the Publicity Code, Hackney and Waltham Forest have ignored repeated requests to stop publishing their council newspapers so frequently.
“In the interests of local democracy, I will therefore use my powers to require them to do so.”
The council has rejected previous government orders to cut publication to quarterly, saying Hackney Today is a relatively cheap and popular way to give information to residents.
Last month, Mayor Philip Glanville defended the council freesheet at his Mayor’s Question Time, saying: “Hackney Today is a rare thing, and it’s a controversial thing for some, but actually having a council newspaper that goes to every door and promotes events like this isn’t available to most councils.”
A recent London Assembly report on ‘The Fate of Local News’ concluded: “Local newspapers have, in some cases, been negatively affected by local authorities regularly publishing their own newsletters. While these newsletters have their place, they should not be a substitute for local news.”
The Citizen has revealed how Hackney Today might not comply with the legal requirements of a newspaper carrying statutory notices.