Waltham Forest council’s refusal to abide by the law and restrict publication of its fortnightly free sheet is “pathetic and absurd”, according to a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party.
Despite being told by the Government to only publish Waltham Forest News quarterly, and being aware of a change in the law regarding council publicity, the authority has said it will continue with current distribution arrangements.
The new law, which introduces a raft of restrictions on town hall publications, is designed to stop taxpayers’ money being used to promote political parties and safeguard an independent local press.
But the council has said it will not act until it has received clarification on the law from Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
This is despite Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities, Brandon Lewis, recently writing to council leader Chris Robbins to tell him he must scale back the publication.
The council’s stance has brought a wave of criticisms from opposition councillors.
Now Conservative vice-chairman (local government), Bob Neill MP, has waded into the row.
He said: “This pathetic and absurd excuse just shows that Labour aren’t interested in trying to save money and would rather continue wasting hardworking people’s money on their unnecessary and costly town hall Pravda. It shows that when it comes to spending money wisely you can’t trust Labour.”
Conservative group leader, Cllr Matt Davis, also slammed the council’s stance and warned it could face a costly legal challenge.
He said: “Perhaps they're waiting on David Cameron to knock on the door for them to listen?
“Any reasonable person would take advice from the government and stop it now.
“The council saying they will continue is wrong. How many more taxpayer funded court cases do they want to lose?”
"Waltham Forest News is a waste of taxpayers’ money. It is leaching money away from local businesses such as other publications which have served the community for decades.
"It has a limited role to play in today's society and is totally biased in favour of Labour. It constantly promotes everything as wonderful when it is not and you never see a Conservative or Lib Dem councillor.
"The council talks a great deal about supporting local businesses and could quite easily publish statutory notices in its local paid-for newspaper but it is actively working against it.
He also described the council’s claim that Waltham Forest News is the most effective way of publishing notices, such as planning applications as “nonsense”.
Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Bob Sullivan, said the council’s stance undermines its credibility as a legislating and prosecuting authority.
He added: “It is sheer arrogance on behalf of the Labour group and they could not care less about legislation.”
"The fortnightly tabloid is just part of the Labour council’s propaganda machine which we have been campaigning against for years.
“The money saved could easily cover the cost of say fully re-opening of Harrow Green Library.
"The borough has a long established local weekly newspaper, and a couple of free-sheets, so why does the council need to produce a paper at taxpayers’ expense?
“With the web, email and targeted information leaflets, there is just no need for it," said Mr Sullivan.
A council spokeswoman said “Following the passage of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, the Secretary of State now has the power to require local authorities to comply with all, or parts, of the Code.
"A letter received from the Department for Communities and Local Government last week states that he is currently considering how he will use the new powers given to him.
"The letter about the Code from Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis was advisory and does not seek to propose a direction.
“If the Secretary of State chooses to issue a direction, local authorities and others will be given the chance to make representations before he makes a final decision.
"As the legislation gives the Secretary of State considerable discretion we will consider our position when we have further information and until such time, are required to continue to have regard to the Code as we do at present.”