John Moss is the Conservative Candidate for the City & East, London Assembly seat next year, writes in dismay at the decision of Tower Hamlets council to keep publishing its weekly propoganda rag at a cost of over £1.5 million.
Across England, several millions of pounds have been saved and re-directed to front-line services by councils giving up free newspapers delivered to their residents. These were always justified by councillors as meeting a requirement to “keep residents informed”, but inevitably ended up as propaganda vehicles for councillors to blow their own trumpets – at our expense.
The most famous example had to be Ken Livingstone’s free sheet, The Londoner, which cost London’s council tax-payers over £3 million a year. Boris Johnson got rid of that the week he was elected and nobody I have met in the past three years has ever said they missed it – except the printers.
Yet one London council is holding out against common sense and continuing to produce a weekly newspaper, delivered free to 87,000 homes in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. East End Life churns out relentless good news about the ruling elite in the Town Hall. Previously, it was Labour, now it is Executive Mayor, Lutfur Rahman. And the cost of this to Tower Hamlets taxpayers? A cool £1.5 million a
Last week, Tower Hamlets Cabinet could have taken the decision to scrap East End Life. They could have diverted that £1.5 million into adult social care, or children’s services or to housing – there are over 23,000 families on the local waiting list – but no. It will go on, providing no useful service other than to promote the council and the Mayor. Most people do not read it and it goes straight from the letter box to the bin.
Not only will it go on, it will go on weekly, in direct contravention of the DCLG guidance which states, “Where local authorities do commission or publish newsletters, newssheets or similar communications, they should not issue them more frequently than quarterly” (my emphasis). Continuing with delivery thirteen times more often than this is described as “a very limited departure from the
Of course the council conducted a review in to whether they should keep the rag in circulation. The review was conducted by Takki Sulaiman, the Director of Communications at Tower Hamlets and the man
whose £100,000+ a year job largely exists to write East End Life. Needless to say, his report to Cabinet came down in favour of keeping it! Here are some of the more outrageous claims made by Mr Sulaiman.
- East End Life won awards. Yes it did. It won London’s “Refugee Media Award” in 2005, 06 and 07. And who organised that particular exercise in tax-payer funded, self-congratulatory backslapping? The then London Mayor, Ken Livingstone. Those awards, like his own propoganda rag, were scrapped by Boris Johnson.
- All council directorates use East End Life as their primary outlet for marketing and advertising and for their public and statutory notices. I am sure they do, but if they could get cheaper rates from local independent newspapers – and they can – then they are wasting Tower Hamlet’s taxpayers’ money in doing so.
- The cost of scrapping East End Life is between £635,000 to £2.1million. This was based on the cost of cancelling contracts – a one off cost – and of advertising in local papers instead. The advertising costs quoted by the Council are the advertised commercial rates in the local paper without discount. Mr Sulaiman claims in the cabinet paper to have spoken to the local papers to obtain these rates. Yet, Tower Hamlets Conservative councillors confirmed with the lead local paper, the East London Advertiser, that discounted rates would be offered. In addition, the costs are based on an increased amount of “single column centimetres” required for this advertising, with the figure inflated by more than 50%, for no apparent reason. Is Mr Sulaiman once again embellishing his facts to fit his desired outcome?
- A “Consultation” with readers supported its retention. The “consultation” was only advertised in East End Life itself and not in other local papers. The results were hardly conclusive. Remember, the rag gets delivered to 87,000 households, just a smidgen over half of 624 replies agreed with keeping it. So a response rate of 0.7% and an approval rate of 0.35%. Of course, in Takki-speak, this equates to “51% support from local people”.
One final, tortuous argument used by Mr Sulaiman, is that it is needed to reach disadvantaged members of the community living in this incredibly diverse borough. The twisted logic goes something like this.
One of the DCLG requirements is that any publication must promote equality and cohesion. Tower Hamlets’ Director of Communications – him again – has written an editorial policy requiring East End Life to promote equality and cohesion. Therefore, East End Life is justified because the editorial policy includes a requirement to promote equality and cohesion. QED!
The final point to note is that some councillors did take seriously the review undertaken to look at this. Two sessions were held with seven members, including four Conservative councillors who all strongly opposed continued publication. Only one councillor supported this. Yet, the line in the report to Cabinet, from the man whose job relies on the continued existence of East End Life is, “Over the course of two member sessions, seven Councillors discussed their thoughts on the future of East End Life. It was felt that EEL had a succesful history publishing local news to the wider community and has been especially successful at promoting the work of schools”.
Tower Hamlets Conservative councillors are calling in the decision to continue producing East End Life for scrutiny and they will be questioning Mr Sulaiman on both the clear conflict of interest which exists between his writing the report and his job relying on the outcome and on the way he has presented his case in the report.
Let us hope that they can force the Council to think again and put the people of Tower Hamlets ahead of the interests of the politicians who claim to serve them.