Hackney Today FAQs and legal challenge

Since 2001, Hackney Council has produced Hackney Today as a fortnightly newspaper. It publishes information about Council services, decisions, events and opportunities, provides space for voluntary and community groups to promote their services and events, and promotes the work of our local NHS, schools and other partners and public bodies. The Council also uses Hackney Today to publish statutory notices, such as traffic measures and licensing and planning applications. By law, councils have to place these in a newspaper which is published more frequently than once a month.  

In 2011, the Government brought in the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity which recommended councils publish newsletters/newspapers no more than four times a year. Hackney Council took note of this guidance, reviewed its practice and concluded that a fortnightly newspaper was the most cost-effective way of getting information out to residents and reached the most people. As such, it continued to publish Hackney Today fortnightly. The District Auditor supported the Council's decision, details of which are available in the June 2011 Cabinet report.

In 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government introduced legislation that gave him new powers to direct local authorities to comply with the Code, or face prosecution. Since then, various Secretaries of State have issued Hackney Council with a notice of their intention to issue such a direction, concerning the frequency of Hackney Today, on four separate occasions. Each time, the Council has provided detailed representations giving the reasons that it continues to publish Hackney Today on a fortnightly basis. No directions were subsequently issued. However, on 11 April, 2018, a direction to stop the fortnightly publication of Hackney Today was issued.

On the 18 June, the Council's Cabinet resolved to challenge the direction. The full recommendations and rationale behind the decision is are available in the Cabinet report.

Frequency is the only criteria by which Hackney Today has been judged to be in breach of the Code. The Government has never found Hackney Today to contravene the Code's guidelines around being 'objective', 'even-handed' or 'appropriate'.

It is a lot cheaper for us to publish fortnightly instead of just four times a year, which means more taxpayers’ money to spend on services for residents.

The Council currently fulfills its legal duty to publish statutory notices by placing them in Hackney Today. If it went quarterly it would have to pay for them to be advertised in a local newspaper.

The current cost of publishing Hackney Today every fortnight is estimated to be about £100,000 less than the cost of paying to advertise statutory notices a local newspaper, publishing Hackney Today quarterly and distributing separately important information currently published in Hackney Today.  

It leads to many more residents being aware of services, opportunities and events available to them, decisions and consultations which affect them, and seeing statutory notices.

Hackney Today reaches 96,000 households through door-to-door distribution, and further 20,000 copies are distributed to council buildings, libraries, GPs’ surgeries, and other public buildings. Neither of the commercial newspapers published in Hackney has a comparable reach.

Reliable distribution figures are not available for either title, but it is believed that the Hackney Gazette sells fewer than 3,000 copies weekly, and the Hackney Citizen has a distribution of around 10,000 copies monthly, mostly through cafes, bars, and public buildings.

Independent research has repeatedly shown that Hackney Today is the most effective way we have to communicate with residents. It is particularly popular among our older residents, social housing tenants, less affluent communities and for residents with disabilities. 

Research carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Council at the end of 2015 showed that 39% of residents currently get the majority of their information about the Council from Hackney Today. This was by far the most used source in the borough, with the Council’s website coming in second at 32%. The survey offered a wide range of options, including local media, leaflets in public buildings, and outdoor advertising. For certain groups, the figure is even higher - people over 55 (62%), social housing tenants (46%), black residents (46%), the least affluent social groups - D/E on the NRS social grade (44%), and those not in full-time employment (43%).

Ipsos MORI also asked people where they would prefer to get their information in future. Again, Hackney Today is the most popular option at 31%. Again, there are some groups where this figure is significantly higher - aged over 55 (51%), least affluent (39%), social housing tenants (39%), women (36%), residents with children (35%).

In 2015, 57% of social tenants in the borough said that they felt well informed about Council services, compared to 67% of owner occupiers. After the Council brought housing services back in-house in 2016, it began publishing a bi-monthly supplement aimed at social tenants and leasholders in Hackney Today called Our Homes. The recent 2017 Tenant and Leaseholder Satisfaction Survey showed an 8% increase to 65% of tenants feeling well-informed about Council services.

An Ipsos MORI survey undertaken for the Council in 2013, found nearly 17% of Hackney residents did not have access to the Internet. Groups that were particularly digitally excluded were residents with disabilities (45%), those aged over 60 (35%) and those claiming benefits (32%). The MORI survey found 81% of residents recognise Hackney Today, of which 74% read it, and 73% trust the information it contains.

It is clear that Hackney Today has a very valuable role to play in ensuring that vital service information reaches all our residents and, in particular, those who are most likely to need that information - older people, those in social housing, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A drop in frequency of publication from fortnightly to quarterly would have a huge impact on the way those residents receive information and would make it far more difficult for the Council to communicate effectively with those groups.

For 2017/18, Hackney Today cost £446,142. This is broken down as:

Costs including staffing, print, distribution and photography

External income into Hackney Today

Net cost

£500, 265

£54,123

£446,142

For 2016/17, it cost £397,884.

Costs including staffing, print, distribution and photography

External income into Hackney Today

Net cost

£512,601

£114,716

£397,884

The estimated cost is £556,838. This is broken down as:

 

Estimated cost

Cost of placing statutory notices in Hackney Gazette (based on most recent quote)

£196,500

Cost of producing and distributing quarterly magazine format publication (based on 48 page A4 magazine, 1 staff member, freelance support, and photography - 2018 quotes from current suppliers)

£215,000

Cost of borough wide leaflets promoting information on vital services (at least 4 per year)

£40,000

Cost of providing other information currently published with Hackney Today e.g. Summer Guide to Youth Activities, Public Health information, advertising public events (based on current costs and estimates of corporate need)

£55,000

Cost of producing and distributing housing services newsletter/magazine to 30,000 tenants and leaseholders (based on actual spend by former ALMO). Currently provided as a supplement called Our Homes in Hackney Today.

£50,338

Total alternative costs

£556,838

However, the cost of having to advertise statutory notices in the Hackney Gazette could be higher than forecast. It is the only local title that is published frequently enough to carry the majority of statutory notices. It has previously, on two occasions, quoted the Council a figure of about £200,000. As the only suitable publication locally, without Hackney Today, the Gazette would effectively be in a monopoly position where it could charge the Council far more than that, and the Council would have no choice but to use it. The Local Government Association has compiled evidence that in local council areas where there is a single title, and no market competition, some councils are being charged inflated rates for statutory advertisements.

Also not factored in is unforeseen need for urgent, wide-spread communications to residents. The current regularity of Hackney Today allows for urgent communications to be included in it. The alternatives are very expensive. For example, the cost of sending a letter to each of the Council’s tenants and leaseholders is about £30,000.

After the Grenfell Tower tragedy it was necessary to send two such letters with urgent fire safety information and reassurance. Without Hackney Today to carry ongoing updates, it would have been necessary to send at least two more such letters in the weeks following the fire.

Similarly, if the Council is consulting on a policy or project and wishes to target communications to a particular ward or neighbourhood, supplementary communications can delivered with Hackney Today to a defined area, at no additional cost to the Council. The loss of a regular door to door distribution run around the borough would incur significant additional cost to every part of the Council which communicates with residents. A three ward print and distribution run for a simple A5 flyer is £4,352.50.

The Cabinet resolved on 18 June that, should the Secretary of State maintain the current direction that Hackney Today be published no more than four times a year, the Council will proceed to challenge the validity of the direction by way of a claim for judicial review. The Council is now reviewing its options.

Fortnightly publication is expected to continue until the legal challenge is resolved.

Page updated: 05/07/2018 16:06:55