Council rapped by minister for ignoring Publicity Code as local newspaper announces closure

Local government minister Marcus Jones has reprimanded Wirral Council for failing to comply with government guidance on publicising its work, with a newspaper forced to close just months after a controversial council newsletter was launched.

The Wirral News, which Trinity Mirror has said will close today (Wednesday 5 July)
The Wirral News, which Trinity Mirror has said will close today (Wednesday 5 July)
The tabloid-sized ‘Wirral Views’ newsletter is published monthly, despite government instructions that such publications should not be published more often than once every three months – to prevent them competing with local newspapers.

The Government’s Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity states that newsletters and similar communications should not be issued "more frequently than quarterly."

This is to "prevent unfair competition with local newspapers" according to government guidance.  
Local authorities have a statutory obligation to pay careful attention to the Code, and the Secretary of State has the power to direct a local authority to comply with the Code.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) told PRWeek: "Councils should not undermine local democracy by publishing their own newsletters more often than quarterly. The vast majority of councils comply with the rules and Local Government Minister Marcus Jones has written to the Leader of Wirral Council to remind him about the Publicity Code."

The council's newsletter has been cited as a factor in the demise of a local newspaper published by Trinity Mirror, the Wirral News, which closes today [Wednesday].

The Wirral marketplace has become increasingly crowded with free print products with now even Wirral Borough Council producing a monthly free print publication themselves.

 Trinity Mirror spokesman on the closure of Wirral News
A Trinity Mirror spokesman told PRWeek: "The Wirral marketplace has become increasingly crowded with free print products with now even Wirral Borough Council producing a monthly free print publication themselves. We believe that there is no longer a viable, scalable or long-term future for free/giveaway print products within the Wirral marketplace."

Launched by the local council last October, Wirral View is sent to households and businesses in the region every month.

In a statement, Kevin MacCallum, Wirral Council’s Head of Communications, said: "We are disappointed to see a well-loved local title like the Wirral News close…We must make it clear, however, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest Wirral View had any commercial impact on the Wirral News."

He continued: "We think there is a place for free, not-for-profit community and public service information in a print format. It does not compete with the local independent media, nor does it impinge on their business or ability to attract advertising. They are entirely different products."

Responding to the government’s concerns over the council’s refusal to comply with the publicity code, MacCallum added: "We are aware we are departing from one provision of the code – in relation to the frequency of Wirral View – but we feel our case is strong enough to justify this decision, and we have put that case to Government a number of times as part of positive discussions over the past year."


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