Council told to cut back on controversial freesheet (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Waltham Forest News must become quarterly
Waltham Forest council has been told it can no longer publish its controversial taxpayer-funded, in-house newspaper on a fortnightly basis.
The authority spends around £500,000 of taxpayers’ cash on printing, designing and distributing Waltham Forest News (WFN) every year.
Guidelines were put in place back in 2011 suggesting local authorities only produce such publications on a quarterly basis – guidelines ignored by Waltham Forest council and many other authorities.
However on March 30 those guidelines became law, prompting parliamentary under secretary of state Brandon Lewis to write to council leader Chris Robbins this week to tell him the publication must be scaled back to one edition every three months.
Mr Lewis’ letter was prompted by a complaint from Waltham Forest resident and Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIOJ) member Janice Shillum Bhend, who was angered by the council’s decision to ignore the guidelines.
Mr Lewis’ letter stated: “I can see no reason for any council not to comply (with the original guidelines) – non-compliance would, I believe, invariably involve an unacceptable waste of taxpayers’ money and council resources.
“I would suggest therefore that you take steps to ensure that your council is in complete compliance with the provisions of the code.”
The council’s website says WFN, which is delivered to every home and business in the borough, tells readers “how the council is working to create a better borough for everyone who lives and works here, as well as stories about your community”.
But some residents believe it only promotes a positive council agenda.
“Local people call it Pravda for good reason,” said Martin Duncan-Jones, a 59-year-old who has lived in Leyton for 27 years.
He added: “One would never know from reading WFN that a senior Labour councillor is currently in jail for large-scale theft, for example, although it is constantly naming and shaming people for petty offences.”
The new law is aimed at protecting local newspapers from unfair taxpayer-funded competition.
Ms Shillum Bhend said: "I'm absolutely delighted that our campaign is about to force Waltham Forest council to toe the line at last and stop wasting residents’ money on publishing WFN fortnightly against government guidelines.”
Waltham Forest council has been asked to comment.
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