Tower Hamlets Council is fighting to the death to preserve its infamous so called local newspaper, East End Life. This is the organ which costs more than the cover price of The Sun to produce and costs tax payers £1.5 million each year.
It has been calculated that public-sector organisations and the council paid a total of £980,000 to advertise in East End Life in 2009, making its true cost to the public purse £1.1 million a year, a cost which has increased in subsequent years. The “paper” employs journalists at more than £40,000 per year, has an editor and is overseen by the Head of Communications and Marketing, Takki Sulaiman, a one time Labour councillor in Haringey who lost his seat in 2006 and was Cabinet member for social services up to that time – enough said.
Despite the proposed changes in the law the council are investigating the possibility of an East End Life ALMO, which will allow the paper to exist after the new rules come into operation.
How this borough treats the real and independent press can be seen in another move. Officers have removed the press table from the council chamber. Reporters from the established press have to queue up for the gallery (a long task as Mayor Rahman ensures his supporters arrive at 5.30pm for a 7.30pm start) and sit where they can to take notes in what ever fashion is possible. The Head of Communications and Marketing of course, has a raised, front row seat.
Elected bodies from humble Parish Councils to Parliament provide press tables, but not Tower Hamlets Council.
I attach the exact words used by one of the most senior officers in response to my enquiry:
“This is not about access for reporters it’s about a press desk which we dealt with some time ago as it takes up too much space. The last few meetings have operated perfectly acceptably without a press desk. I don’t think there is an issue here”
Here we have a local authority, spending £1.3 billion of public money where one of the three most senior council officers feels “the press desk takes up too much space”, despite the public section of the council chamber being increased in size since October last year.
When localism is law it needs to be real localism and must ensure that meetings of elected bodies are open to full public scrutiny.