Livingstone clears way for new London free

London mayor Ken Livingstone has fired the starting gun in the race to provide a new free daily paper for London.

This
week he pre-empted a long-running Office of Fair Trading inquiry into
Associated Newspaper’s exclusive distribution deal at London train and
tube stations for its free Metro title. He said he would be inviting
tenders for bids to provide a free afternoon paper distributed at
Transport for London stations.

Livingstone has had a rocky relationship with Associated Newspapers’

Evening
Standard for some time. The paper has been an outspoken critic of
Livingstone and especially his congestion charging policy.

Richard
Desmond has been threatening to launch a free London newspaper for two
years. In May 2003 he lodged a complaint with the OFT, saying
Associated Newspapers’ distribution deal for Metro created an unfair
monopoly.

According to industry insiders other companies who
could bid for the London newspaper franchise include: regional
newspaper publisher Archant, News International and Telegraph Group.

Associated
Newspapers has four years left to run on its distribution contract with
Transport for London. But Livingstone has now signalled his intention
to renegotiate that deal.

He said: “The contract entered into by
London Underground six years ago with Associated Newspapers for the
exclusive distribution of the Metro does not allow Londoners to get the
additional benefit of a free afternoon newspaper.

It is a matter
of public record that other newspaper businesses would be willing to
distribute a free afternoon paper and might even pay more than we are
getting for the Metro deal.

“Transport for London will be taking
appropriate action to bring about the distribution of a free afternoon
newspaper on the tube, including resolving the long-running OFT
investigation negotiating appropriate changes to the agreement with
Associated and preparing an advertisement inviting bids from newspaper
organisations.”

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