Greenwich Time: Government minister tells residents to complain

Government minister Grant Shapps has appealed to Greenwich Council tax payers to complain to the district auditor about its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time, as a panel of councillors backed a decision to keep publishing it weekly.

A scrutiny panel endorsed a cabinet decision made in July to continue with GT, despite a new government code aimed at prohibiting council weeklies, and complaints from Conservative councillors claiming figures about how much the council supposedly saves by publishing the weekly were millions of pounds out.

Local government minister Grant Shapps told PR Week: “These papers exist to promote personal political agendas and not the interests of the public and I urge local residents to report these publications to the district auditor.”

Already planning a complaint is Eltham-based community magazine SE Nine. Publisher Mark Wall and editor John Webb claim GT has damaged their business by competing with it for advertisers, although the council is insistent it has not targeted the magazine’s clients.

Neither council leader Chris Roberts, nor any members of the cabinet who took the decision, attended the meeting, but assistant chief executive Katrina Delaney dismissed complaints that the newspaper was politically biased, or a mouthpiece for the leader.

“If you get a Marks & Spencer card, you’ll get Marks & Spencer’s magazine and it’ll cover Marks & Spencer’s view,” she said.

“The same with the gas board or BT or whoever. I think people understand it represents the views of the organisation.

“Greenwich Time represents the views that come from the decision makers at Greenwich Council.”

You can find out more about Monday’s meeting, and comment, over at Greenwich.co.uk.

I was among those who spoke at the meeting – I thought misgivings about the way Greenwich Time has handled the aftermath of the Woolwich riot needed putting on the record, rather than being ignored on here. If you’re interested, here’s what I told the committee. However, the discussion focused more on value-for-money and competition arguments rather than whether it was objective and even-handed, as the code demands.

Oh, and what if you want to complain about GT breaking the code? Write to Sue Exton, District Auditor, 1st Floor, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4HQ, or get in touch with the Audit Commission. That’s the same one the government wants to abolish, of course…

9 comments

  1. “…but assistant chief executive Katrina Delaney dismissed complaints that the newspaper was politically biased, or a mouthpiece for the leader.

    “If you get a Marks & Spencer card, you’ll get Marks & Spencer’s magazine and it’ll cover Marks & Spencer’s view,” she said.

    “The same with the gas board or BT or whoever. I think people understand it represents the views of the organisation.

    “Greenwich Time represents the views that come from the decision makers at Greenwich Council.””

    That’s a pretty poor effort at dismissing complaints of political bias.

  2. Ms Delaney’s points are interesting. I knew someone who used to work for the paper back in 2008 but I never took much of an interest in exactly what the paper was about. If it wasn’t for blogs such as yours I actually wouldn’t have known it was a council paper. After all my previous experience of such council publications was in Bexley and they don’t come through your door every week.

    I might be naive but I would be interested to know how many people know what Greenwich Time actually is and who publishes it. Darryl perhaps you could conduct a survey? Surely if people believe it is a local paper rather than a council publication.

    I confess I haven’t lived in the area for a while now so maybe it is more express about what it is but I’d still be interested nonetheless.

  3. Sorry – realised I forgot to finish a sentance – damn multi-tasking!

    If people believe it is a local paper rather than a council paper that supports the arguments against it and why Greenwich Council should stop publishing it.

  4. I think you’d have to commission an independent survey, Urban Fox – ask me when I have money! But the question’s the right one – with the area’s population far more transient than even a decade ago, many will only get GT through their door and believe it’s somehow independent. Only Greenwich and Tower Hamlets publish weeklies, and even fortnightlies are very rare if you look around the country.

  5. That Mark’s and Spencer comment made me think along these lines – people choose to go to M&S rather than somewhere else, so if you get the card, you will get the magazine and all the other items associated with it. People choose to live in Greenwich rather than elsewhere, so if you don’t like what we’re doing, you can always move somewhere else.

    Or vote us out.

    Any way you look at it, that was a pretty poor comment to make from the assistant chief exec!

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