The Local Government Association has called for laws requiring councils to place planning notice ads in local papers to be scrapped.
The LGA, which represents more than 350 councils in England and Wales, warned today that the cost of placing statutory notices in local papers could be as much as £200m over the next five years – money it says could be spent more wisely on other services.
An average council would have to pay its local newspaper £105,000 per year to print notices which are routinely published online and circulated in council newsletters, the LGA said, claiming that last year oone unnamed local authority had to pay out £608,000 to meet its legal duty to advertise statutory notices.
Baroness Margaret Eaton, chairman of the LGA, said: ‘In this climate of cuts, councils have to make some incredibly difficult decisions about which staff they can continue to employ and which services they can afford to sustain.
‘The Government has already instructed town halls to save money by advertising job vacancies online rather than in the press. It is contradictory to then force councils to continue the expensive and unnecessary practice of paying millions of pounds per year to advertise planning notices.
‘This is money which should be spent protecting the vital frontline services on which people rely, not propping up the profits of the newspaper industry.
‘It is important that these statutory notices are accessible to as many people as possible but in this day and age councils can reach far more people for a fraction of the cost by putting the information online or distributing it directly.”
Current rules mean that council tax payers are propping up the struggling newspaper industry to the tune of £40m per year, the LGA claimed, contributing eight per cent of UK local newspapers’ annual profits.
The LGA is arguing that the rules – which predate the internet – should be brought up to date.
Councils, in consultation with residents, should be able to decide how best to keep people informed while ensuring they get the best value for money, the LGA said, and bring to an end the days of town halls having a statutory responsibility to bolster newspaper ad revenue.
Baroness Eaton added: ‘The press plays a vital role in local democracy by scrutinising the goings on at town halls up and down the country. Councils recognise this and many have been proactive in supporting their local newspapers in other ways.
‘These rules stem from an age when the local newspaper was the cheapest and most effective way of communicating on a mass scale – but in the 21st century that is no longer the case.
‘In these times of austerity councils can no longer afford to prop up the newspaper industry and be held to ransom by legislation designed for a bygone age.
‘Town halls should be free to decide how planning notices should be publicised to ensure maximum exposure and the best value for money for the residents they serve.”
The LGA’s call comes after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles vowed in July to place local authority jobs online arguing that costs of £5,000 to £10,000 to place an ad in some newspapers could be saved by putting more job vacancies on the web.
Pickles did offer an olive branch to the local newspaper industry by saying the move would not mean an end to advertising in the media.
Local newspapers in particular would remain an important source to advertise jobs to those who may be ‘digital excluded’and not have access to the internet, he said.