Row over council ‘propaganda’

Lib Dems claim council is breaching government guidance with its in-house magazine, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Haringey Civic Centre

Opposition councillors have accused Haringey Council of wasting thousands of pounds on a “propaganda” magazine which they claim breaches official guidance.

The Liberal Democracts have called on the government to step in and review the council’s Haringey People magazine, claiming the publication is flouting a code – designed to protect local newspapers from unfair competition – by being published too regularly.

But the council says it has no plans to reduce the frequency of the magazine, arguing it has a duty to ensure residents are adequately informed about the work of the local authority and its services.

The government’s Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity says councils should not issue newsletters, newssheets or similar communications more often than quarterly. Haringey People is published six times a year and the Lib Dems claim each issue costs the council more than £20,000.

Lib Dem leader Luke Cawley-Harrison said: “Our borough is lucky that we still have a flourishing local press, which these guidelines are supposed to protect. However, it seems that Haringey’s Labour-run council is more concerned with promoting themselves at any cost – including using taxpayers’ money. 

“The rules on sending out magazines are quite clear, yet Haringey has continued to flout them, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds in recent years beyond what is permissible. If they refuse to follow the code of conduct, ministers should step in to ensure they do.”

Other councils have previously been rebuked under the code, including neighbouring Enfield, which in 2014 was rapped by the government over a newssheet sent out every two months. Waltham Forest Council also lost a court case against the government in 2019 when fighting to continue publishing Waltham Forest News every two weeks.

The Lib Dems, who have repeatedly called for the council’s communications budget to be cut to help fund services, also claimed the weekly email Haringey People Extra could be in breach of the code.

A council spokesperson said: “We have a duty to ensure that residents are adequately informed about the work of the council and its services. Haringey People, delivered to every household, plays a key role in doing just that.   

“It is especially crucial for residents who are unable to use digital services and other platforms. During the pandemic, the magazine has been an important source of information in keeping residents updated on issues relating to public health, vaccines, and financial support.

Haringey People also aims to celebrate the achievements of Haringey residents and bring a spotlight to the really important work those involved in supporting our communities do.

“We believe it constitutes the right balance between keeping the public informed about local authority services and any changes to those services especially in these heightened times.

“Given its role, importance and popularity with local people – in the last resident’s survey nearly 70% said it was their preferred source of council information – we have no plans to reduce its frequency.”