Since 2001, Hackney Council has produced Hackney Today as a fortnightly newspaper. The paper provides information about Council and other public services in the borough, as well as providing space for community news, and a free listings service for community events. The Council also uses Hackney Today to publish statutory advertising - that means the planning, traffic and licensing notices that the law says have to be published in a local newspaper.
In 2011, the Government brought in new guidance (the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity) which banned councils from publishing a newsletter or newspaper more than four times a year. Hackney took note of this guidance, reviewed its practice, and concluded that as a fortnightly paper was the most cost-effective way of getting information out to residents, and reached the highest number of people, it would continue to publish Hackney Today fortnightly (24 times a year). The District Auditor supported the Council's conclusions about value for money and its decision to continue fortnightly publication. For full details of this decision, see the June 2011 Cabinet report.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, passed legislation in 2014 allowing him to issue directions against councils that do not comply with the Code. Although the Council has had correspondence on this issue with DCLG since then, most recently in December 2016, they have not issued a direction.
Why publish fortnightly?
It is cheaper for us to publish fortnightly instead of only four times a year. The reason lies with the statutory advertising described above. The law says that this advertising has to be published in a newspaper that comes out more than once a month. If we only publish quarterly we would have to place statutory advertising in a local commercial newspaper, which would cost significant amounts of money. That combined with the cost of a quarterly magazine would be more than it costs to produce Hackney Today fortnightly. Hackney Council has repeatedly told the Government that if they remove the legal requirement to publish these notices in a newspaper and allow us to do it online and through libraries/community centres, we will stop publishing Hackney Today every fortnight.
How much does Hackney Today cost?
The Council pays for the printing and distribution of Hackney Today, as well as the staff to produce it, and additional costs such as photography, stationery and staff training. Those costs are partially offset by external advertising revenue as set out in the table below.
Net cost to the Council
How much would it cost us to publish only four times a year, in line with the code of practice?
How much would it cost to print a quarterly magazine?
Based on printing and distribution quotes from our existing suppliers, we calculate that the cost of producing a magazine format publication every quarter, with sufficient pagination to carry service information from the Council and its partners, and one member of editorial staff would be approximately £185,000 per annum (88 pages per quarter as compared to 216 pages per quarter that a fortnightly publication provides).
How much would it cost to place our statutory advertising in another title?
We asked the Hackney Gazette (the only other paper in Hackney eligible to carry statutory advertising) for a quote for three pages of statutory advertising each week for a year. At the rate they quoted us, over a year this would cost the Council £176,525. We would also need to employ a part time member of staff to co-ordinate all statutory notices for publication in the Hackney Gazette, to liaise between council departments and the Gazette, check all notices for accuracy etc. These duties are currently covered within the existing Hackney Today staffing structure. This part time post, including on-costs such as pension and NI costs would be about £20,000 per annum, bringing the cost of publishing statutory notices in the Gazette up to approx £196,500.
What about value for money?
Hackney Today goes to 96,000 homes and businesses across the borough, with a verified distribution rate of around 97%. The Hackney Gazette sells fewer than 5,000 copies per week, so by using Hackney Today to publish statutory advertising and other council information we can ensure we reach almost everyone who lives here.
If we published Hackney Today only quarterly, the Council would inevitably need to produce a good deal more leaflets and other printed materials to publicise service changes and other information. This would further push up the costs of reducing frequency. For example the cost of designing, printing and distributing just one A4 leaflet to every home in Hackney would cost around £10,000.
So just four of these each year to communicate vital information about services such as waste, parks and leisure, youth activities etc. would cost £40,000 and it is very likely that we would need more than that. Also, council departments would need to take out other, non-statutory advertising and produce brochures for other services to replace content currently contained within Hackney Today (for example the annual Summer's Guide to Youth Activities).
Therefore the total costs to the Council that would result from complying with the code of practice are as follows:
Cost of placing statutory notices in Hackney Gazette
Cost of producing quarterly Hackney Today
Cost of leaflets re provision of vital services (at least 4 per year)
Cost of providing other information (e.g. Summer Guide to Youth Activities, Public Health information, advertising public events)
Total alternative costs
So it can be seen that producing Hackney Today on a quarterly basis would be more than £100,000 a year more expensive than the average annual costs incurred through the current bi-weekly publication.
Fortnightly Hackney Today
Quarterly Hackney Today
c. £461,000 including cost of statutory advertising in the Hackney Gazette, plus additional leaflets and advertising.
Hackney Today is delivered to 97,000 homes and businesses every fortnight.
Statutory notices are included in Hackney Today, giving all residents access to them.
Hackney Today would be delivered to 97,000 homes and businesses four times a year.
The Hackney Gazette sells around 4,000 copies per week. Residents would have to buy it at 70p to view statutory notices.
What we get for our money
24 publications a year into every home.
The Council includes all its service information in Hackney Today, including changes to waste collection and recycling, health information, the annual summer youth activities guide, regular information on how to access services, and advertising for all its campaigns (for example foster carers and adoption recruitment). The Council produces very little additional printed material for door to door distribution and rarely advertises in other publications.
4 publications a year into every home.
The Council would need to produce and distribute additional leaflets and other printed material as well as quarterly publications to communicate service changes and vital information. The Council would also need to buy additional advertising space in other publications, which would add to the cost.
Does anyone read Hackney Today? Why do we still need printed materials? Can't we put everything online?
We are doing more and more business online, but there are still many people in Hackney who do not have regular Internet access. Those tend to be the people who need our services most.
According to an Ipsos MORI survey undertaken by the Council in 2013, nearly 17% of Hackney residents overall do not have access to the Internet. Only 35% of our over 60s have internet access compared to 59% nationally. 45% of our disabled residents have no internet access and 32% of people claiming benefits.
The MORI survey also told us that 81% of residents recognise Hackney Today, of which 74% read it, and 73% trust the information it contains. For 38% it is their number one preferred source of information about council services.
The MORI survey showed us that 71% of residents feel well-informed about council services. This is almost 20% above the national average.
A further survey carried out in 2015, showed that 39% still cite Hackney Today as their number one source of information about the Council. 46% of people in social rented accommodation (council or housing association properties) cite Hackney Today as their most used source, compared to only 18% who use the Council website.
Will Hackney Council be complying with the 2011 Code of Practice, in the light of the Secretary of State's recent interventions?
If we comply with the Code and reduce the frequency of Hackney Today to quarterly, it is certainly the case that the Council will have to spend more money than it currently does on publishing statutory notices and service information, and that our communications will reach far fewer residents. The Council will be carefully considering its options and taking legal advice.
The Council currently complies with every aspect of the Code except for the stipulation around frequency of publication.