Camden council leader defies guidelines to publish £165,000 town hall publicity magazine

Cllr Chris Knight thinks the Camden magazine is a 'flagrant waste of money and time'

Cllr Chris Knight thinks the Camden magazine is a 'flagrant waste of money and time' - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Camden Council will disregard government guidelines and spend more than £165,000 publishing its magazine more frequently at 10 times a year.

The council took the decision temporarily to print the previously quarterly Camden magazine more often as a “cost-effective way of communicating with residents,” according to council leader Cllr Sarah Hayward. The move contradicts government guidelines, which state that local authorities should only publish “newsletters, news-sheets or similar communications” four times a year.

Camden Council has revealed its annual budget for producing the magazine is £165,595, while cuts to the communities sector total £833,333 a year between 2011 and 2014. Library cuts over the last three years have saved the council £533,333 a year.

Council leader Cllr Sarah Hayward insisted that government spending cuts to local authority funding made it even more important.

She said: “We are temporarily increasing the frequency of the magazine and our editorial guidelines make it clear that the magazine will not seek to compete with our much valued local media either for advertising or in content, which is the main thrust of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s code of practice.

“Producing a magazine is cost effective and actually helps us reduce our spending on communications with residents as we do not have to print numerous leaflets and booklets when articles can be placed in the publication.”

Cabinet member for finance Cllr Theo Blackwell added: “The voluntary sector grants budget remains the largest in London, and so too our libraries remain some of the best supported despite these cuts.”

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The cost of Camden magazine, which is distributed to households across the borough, is far greater than the amount spent by neighbouring boroughs on their news materials.

Barnet spends £75,000 a year on its Barnet First magazine, Haringey spends £63,600 a year on Haringey People, while Islington Life costs Islington £55,000 a year. Last month the Ham&High’s sister paper, the Wood&Vale, revealed that Westminster Council is spending £250,000 on its Westminster Reporter magazine while making 100 per cent cuts to arts funding, the equivalent of £350,000.

Cllr Chris Knight (Conservative), who represents Hampstead ward on Camden Council, led a campaign in 2011 to stop the magazine’s publication in order to save Heath Library, which later became the Keats Community Library.

He said: “If they desperately want to keep it, they should charge for advertising and give local businesses an opportunity to advertise in it. I often wander around Hampstead and I see loads of the magazines in the recycling bins. People hardly ever read them.

“It’s a flagrant waste of time and money in this age of austerity.”

Former council leader, Cllr Keith Moffitt (Liberal Democrat), criticised the publication for focusing on the achievements of Labour councillors, rather than providing information about local services.

He said: “If you spend money putting literature through people’s doors it should be about council policies, not Labour politicians.”