Would you pay £1.3 million for a newspaper that is as ‘dull as ditchwater’? If you live in Greenwich, I’m afraid you are about to.
Last week Greenwich council took the decision to spend this huge amount of taxpayers’ money to continue to publish Greenwich Info, its fortnightly magazine which, in theory at least, is delivered through every letterbox in the borough.
Before readers think me uncharitable, “dull as ditchwater” isn’t my description of this publication – but the words of Cllr Denise Hyland, until recently the Labour leader of the council.
For those not familiar with this sorry saga – until 2016 Greenwich council published Greenwich Time, a weekly taxpayer-funded newspaper that was deemed by the Department of Communities and Local Government to be in clear contravention of the Code of Practice that is designed to ensure councils do not use taxpayers’ money for party political decisions.
Greenwich Time was propaganda, pure and simple, and when the government finally took action to stop this appalling abuse, it is telling that Labour councillors wasted £80,000 – again, your council tax money – trying to save it in the courts.
That desperation betrayed just how important Greenwich Time was to the local Labour Party, which for years – decades – has relied on using taxpayer resources to put across its political message, instead of delivering their own leaflets like other political parties do.
The result of the government’s intervention was instead of publishing this weekly newspaper, the council created this fortnightly version.
It is a stretch to call Greenwich Info propaganda – though it certainly promotes Labour politicians at every opportunity.
Greenwich Info’s chief crime is simply being utterly pointless. It is a shockingly inefficient and ineffective means of communicating – sending the same information to everyone, regardless of their circumstances or use of different council services – and one that also continues to divert advertising revenue for genuine local newspapers like this one.
Their latest move is to enter into new four-year contracts – £874,000 for printing the magazine, and £422,000 for delivering it.
In our budget alternative in February, Opposition Conservative councillors identified that scrapping Greenwich Info and reducing wasteful non-statutory publicity budgets – while still delivering information on, for example, Choice-Based Lettings in other ways – would save the local taxpayer £305,000 a year.