Chancellor Warns Government Will Take Local Authorities to Court Over Council Papers

George Osborne has issued a warning to local authorities that councils which continue to defy the government by publishing aggressive council papers in competition with independent commercial local media could face being taken to court.  

In a piece for Politics Home this week, the Chancellor highlighted the importance of “a dynamic and vibrant local press” and the freedom of the press adding that the Government had a role to play in supporting the industry without direct subsidy.

Mr Osborne said: “As power is devolved out of Whitehall, a dynamic and vibrant local press is more vital to our democracy than ever before. I know publishers are uneasy about direct government subsidy, and I understand that. But there is a role for government here.”

Mr Osborne listed the initiatives the government is undertaking to support the industry such as business rates relief and supporting partnership discussions between the BBC and the News Media Association on behalf of the industry. 

Mr Osborne continued: “We are also determined to clamp down on what my colleague Sir Eric Pickles rightly called ‘Town Hall Pravdas’.

“Weekly and fortnightly council free-sheets undermine a free local press, drawing away readers and advertising. They fail to investigate and scrutinise the conduct of the local authorities, and carry flattering reports on councillors’ work. Frankly, these sorts of publications are an abuse of public funds.

“So we have required them to be politically objective, balanced and published no more than once a quarter. Some councils aren’t complying – and I warn them that the government is prepared to take them to court if they don’t.”