Andy Burnham: Council newspapers 'overstepping' mark

Local authorities are ‘overstepping’ the mark by launching their own newspapers with public money, culture secretary Andy Burnham has said.

In an interview with the Scarborough Evening News, Burnham said the issue of council-funded media competing with the regional press was “top of my in-tray at the moment”.

And he said he would raise the issue at a summit in London next month, which he has asked the Local Government Association to attend.

“There has to be a balance and councils are overstepping that,” Burnham told Evening News editor Ed Asquith.

“One part of the package could be for the Local Government Association to develop a guideline.”

He added: “The council issue is for councils to decide but clearly there are hard questions to be asked about whether it is appropriate for their communication or for their marketing.

“One issue that has been raised is whether the government can increase ad spend towards papers instead of billboards or bus stops. It’s a valid point.”

The Scarborough Evening News has reported that it faces competition from three local authority-produced titles, “all designed and produced to mimic newspapers”.

The “appropriateness and effectiveness” of council-funded newspapers and television channels is one of the issues that will be investigated by the media select committee as part of its newly launched inquiry into the future of local journalism.

The Office of Fair Trading is also looking at the effect council titles are having on newspapers as part of its review into the media ownership regime.

It has so far held meetings with the Newspaper Society and the newly former Local Media Alliance – which brings together the chief executives of seven major regional newspaper publishers.

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