Council takes government to court to settle publicity row

Waltham Forest News

An edition of Waltham Forest News

Waltham Forest Council will take the government to court in an attempt to save its fortnightly publication Waltham Forest News.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) ordered the council in April to cease publishing the taxpayer-funded rag every two weeks, demanding it only be printed four times per year.

That move was made following the council’s refusal to comply with a publicity code, approved by the Houses of Parliament in 2011, which aims to protect the freedom of local media from the “unfair competition” of taxpayer-funded publications.

Waltham Forest is one of two local authorities, along with neighbouring Hackney, that have refused to comply with the code. At a meeting in June the council’s cabinet responded to the government’s demand that it complies by September this year – and voted to begin legal action.

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council said: “The council’s cabinet decided to challenge the MHCLG’s direction to cease publication of Waltham Forest News. A judicial review will now be instigated against the Secretary of State.

“We believe Waltham Forest News provides residents with reliable coverage of local news, information and events. It reaches every household in the borough and contains a thorough guide to what is happening in the local area for residents as well as information on how residents can access services and benefits that the council provides.

“It is also fulfils our legal obligations to print public notices in a fortnightly publication without having to spend taxpayers’ money on expensive advertising in the commercial press.”

The publication costs of Waltham Forest News, at around £18,000 per issue, are currently covered by income from advertising and statutory notices paid for by other council-run and taxpayer-funded services. A council report stated it was due to make a £145,000 annual surplus.

The potential cost of a judicial review has been put at £25,000 – although the council would also be liable to pay the government’s costs should it lose its case. This could be reduced, however, by entering joint legal proceedings with Hackney Council.