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Archive for June 14th, 2011

My last post here was largely about East End Life. As I was writing it, the Local Government Minister Bob Neill was reading a strongly worded letter from his party colleague, Cllr Peter Golds, who leads the Tory opposition on Tower Hamlets council.

He raises some of the points I made (eg about the disingenuous accounting) and more. I’ll let the letter speak for itself:

Dear Minister

Re: East End Life 

I am writing regarding the London Borough of Tower Hamlets response to the recent guidelines to council run newspapers. Tower Hamlets was the first to run a weekly newspaper and this organ, East End Life, has a reputation of being a notorious, publicly funded propaganda sheet. The veneer of TV listings, restaurant reviews and the description of “community newspaper” is an attempt to conceal the blatant propaganda.

When the government guidelines were introduced the Executive Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, who was backed in his campaign against a Labour candidate by Ken Livingstone, initiated a review of East End Life. This was conducted by the ccouncil’s £100,000 a year Head of Communications, Takki Sulaiman, a former Labour councillor in Haringey who was a close ally of Sharon Shoesmith whilst serving as a Cabinet Member in that authority. He was also a failed Labour candidate in the 2001 general election and lost his seat on Haringey Council in 2006. He is responsible for writing East End Life, and meets weekly with the Mayor to discuss what goes in it. He would be unlikely to facilitate a review that recommended scrapping most of the responsibilities associated with his own highly paid job.

In conducting the survey 624 people responded, out of a population of 25,000. These 624 responses were also the right people. 88% of those responding did so through either an online survey or an open response via the council. But these two methods were advertised only on the Council’s own website and social media or through East End Life. Unsurprisingly there was a 64% positive view of the paper from these surveys. Residents who throw it straight in the bin are unlikely to notice the ad for the survey – or take part in it. Even this skewered sample indicated a 36% view to get rid of the “paper”

In an attempt to manage the views of councillors, Conservative councillors attended a members’ forum on the paper, and, formed a majority of those present. They made their views extremely clear. The review notes of this meeting “it was felt that EEL has had a successful history publishing local news to the wider community, and has been especially successful at promoting the work of schools.” An absolutely staggering misrepresentation of an actual meeting where accurate notes should have been taken.

There are other serious misrepresentations of fact.

The report claims that to abolish East End Life would cost the council £2.1million, and that reductions in frequency would also involve (lower) net costs to the council. The £2.1 million figure comes from the difference the council estimates it would cost to put its statutory advertisements in the local press and the internal transfer cost of advertising in East End Life. There are three things wrong with their approach.

They estimate the cost if they had advertised in all the local newspapers. The East End has one newspaper, the East London Advertiser that has been running for 145 years and is sold in every newsagent and supermarket in the borough. Restricting advertising to this newspaper would clearly result in lower costs

The report bases the cost of advertising in the local press entirely from its rate card. Conservative councillors had already confirmed, in public at council meetings and in the review meeting that the East London Advertiser would offer the council a loyalty rate of £150,000 per year and making available two pages a week for 52 weeks. The review did not take this into account – because no-one involved in it bothered to phone the local press and check this out.

Most astonishingly of all, the £2.1 million figure in this report doesn’t include the savings that will be made by no longer writing, printing and distributing a newspaper. The council already costs this at £1.5 million. The failure to include this sum makes the council’s claim that the net cost of closure is £2.1 million a complete sham.

This consultation is fundamentally flawed and will result in the continuation of a crude propaganda sheet, sent out weekly which will damage the local, independent media and render normal campaigning completely ineffective as no political party can have regular access to campaign funds equal to those available to a local authority. 

I attach copies of the Tower Hamlets Cabinet Report and two recent editions of East End Life, one of which is little more than a political advertorial.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Peter Golds

Leader of the Opposition

London Borough of Tower Hamlets

There is now a real fear among some Tories that while there has been much tough-talking from Eric Pickles and his department about cracking down on waste such as East End Life (indeed at this select committee hearing last December, Grant Shapps waved a copy of East End Life in the faces of MPs to ram home just how much it was Enemy Number 1 (or thereabouts)), when punch comes to shove he’ll be found wanting.

A point that Tories in Tower Hamlets are beginning to make is that the people encouraging Lutfur to fight Whitehall on this matter are Ken Livingstone’s former advisers, including Murziline Parchment. The Tories argue that Ken is using Tower Hamlets as his little incubator and that should he beat Boris next year, we will all see the return of that other waste of toilet paper, The Londoner.

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