Time’s up: Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper to cease this summer

Abandoned copies of Greenwich Time left at flats in Charlton last week
Abandoned copies of Greenwich Time left at flats in Charlton last week

853 exclusive: Greenwich Council has agreed to stop publishing its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, by June, the government has announced.

Council leader Denise Hyland had planned to go to court to defend the paper, which is distributed to the vast majority of homes in the borough each week.

It is the only council weekly left in England following Tower Hamlets’ decision last week to phase out East End Life.

Greenwich has now agreed to comply with laws restricting local authority publications to four times a year, beginning from June.

A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spokesman said: “We have agreed that Royal Borough of Greenwich will be fully compliant with the Publicity Code from the end of June 2016, settling the matter without having to go to court.”

The department did not provide further details of the agreement.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told this website: “We are pleased that Royal Borough and the Department of Communities and Local Government have settled the matter without having to go to court.

“We are pleased that the Department has accepted the Royal Borough’s need to continue to produce regular and frequent communication for residents, in order to keep them up to date on Council services, job opportunities and other important information.”

Greenwich says it will still be allowed to produce “regular and frequent communication of information” to residents who choose to receive it in whatever format, so long as it does not look like a newspaper, news-sheet or similar.

News Shopper and Greenwich Time front pages
Propaganda? The News Shopper and Greenwich Time compared

Last month, Hyland told a full council meeting that Greenwich had spent £35,350 on preparing for the court action, plus an estimated £12,893 on staff time.

The council has consistently claimed it saves money by publishing a weekly newspaper, as otherwise it would have to pay one of the local newspaper groups to carry its public notices advertising planning application, road works, and other formal announcements. In December, Hyland claimed it would save £21,000 per month.

But critics have dismissed the paper – which features council and community features rather than hard news – as merely a propaganda tool for the authority’s leadership.

Greenwich Time was a target of former communities secretary Eric Pickles, who announced plans to take legal action against the council last March. In response, the council announced it would seek a judicial review of the decision.

But Greenwich’s last line of defence – that government-appointed commissioners at Tower Hamlets were continuing to publish a weekly paper there – started crumbling last autumn, when its paper, East End Life, switched to fortnightly. Last week, Tower Hamlets’ elected Labour mayor John Biggs announced East End Life would cease publication altogether this spring in response to a direction from the commissioners.

Biggs said of East End Life: “In over 20 years of weekly publication the world has changed, particularly with the use of the internet, and it is time we looked again at it.”

Greenwich will now have to rethink its communications strategy, which largely revolves around the paper. For years, rumours have claimed Greenwich would attempt to transfer GT to Greenwich Leisure Limited, although Pickles’ direction to the council would appear to rule that possibility out.

Neighbouring Lewisham switched its Lewisham Life magazine to quarterly some years back, but also sends out weekly emails with information about council and community services.

The paper was first published in 1984 as a campaigning monthly, at a time when Labour councils were openly fighting decisions made by Margaret Thatcher’s government.

It went fortnightly in 1991, softening its tone during Len Duvall’s 1990s reign as council leader. But in 2002 it began to mimic the style of a local paper, going weekly six years later.

12 comments

  1. Darryl – just have a little think. They win one round, they move onto something else. You might not like Greenwich Time but when they move on to supressing something you do like – come back to your little think

  2. If other councils can cope without their own Pravda there’s no reason why Greenwich’s greatest can’t think how to do it. As you say, times have changed and a free newspaper is no longer the best in all cases.

    Mary, I’m not sure why we should defend Greenwich Time out of the sheer principle of it rather than on its own merits.

  3. Someone who was caught by surprise by the news gave me a ring earlier to ask about the whys and wherefores, and said I must be pleased by the news.

    I’ve actually got mixed feelings about this. I really don’t want asset-strippers like Newsquest or Tindle (News Shopper/ Mercury) publishers to benefit from this. If Greenwich hadn’t been run by a bully for 14 years, and had an open culture, and allowed GT to become a genuine community paper, reflecting a range of viewpoints while ticking some of the council’s boxes, I’d have been the first to the barricades. The communities that make up this borough are changing beyond recognition – often without our permission – and a publication that reflects the hopes and fears of our population, both new and long-serving, would be a valuable thing.

    But instead we got a paper designed to prolong the careers of a small clique and derail those of those they disapproved of; a paper which aggressively targeted the existing print media; that ignored threats to our communities and misled on others; and one that sought to manipulate community good works for the gain of a select few individuals. The old-fashioned 1980s Greenwich Time was also propaganda, but it was written from the heart – GT is just dishonest.

    They had a chance, and they blew it. I once spoke to a comms boss at another London borough who told me Greenwich Time was screwing it up for everyone else because the government would just hammer all councils for it. And so it proved.

  4. Not at all a fan of the GT, but the picture above is a very poor example: If all other reporting would be that nimby-ist vinegar piss I’d prefer to read the GT article about the new peninsular developments. I’m all for a bit critical fact finding but I also don’t like these endless negativity with a few sour lemons always pretending to write in the name of “the people”

  5. As Darryl has stated, the “Greenwich Time” of the 1980’s, which included my time as a Councillor from 1986-1990, was written from the heart. It was always a propaganda publication during that period, designed to try and get Greenwich borough residents to oppose the Conservatives and its policies towards local government, as well as on wider issues.
    It never pretended to be anything else.

    But the “Greenwich Time” of the present day is a dull, uninspiring, propaganda publication, reflective of the borough’s constituency Labour Party that are behind it, which purports to be a community newspaper, which it patently isn’t.

    Apart from my local vets, who get the copies of “Greenwich Time” delivered to my address to line their animal pens, losing this regular supply of paper, I can’t see anyone else missing this dour publication in the slightest.

  6. I’m really grateful to Darryl for his blog. It would be hard to find out som of this stuff without it. Maybe some of the rest of us could contribute to Greenwich community blogs to cover more issues- I am concerned with the struggles disabled people and children have , for instance.

  7. in addition, its distribution is quite patchy – ie I don’t receive it, so i am paying for something that I don’t get. Probably my own fault for living in a new development on the river.

  8. The blatant propaganda ruined what was otherwise a valuable community resource. If you are elderly or just prefer what you know best, websites and Twitter are not going to be much helpful. The risk is that if people aren’t even aware of the community initiatives that RBG does invest in (e.g. walking and cycling meet-ups, Tall Ships volunteering etc), the funds will be wasted and eventually cut. Hopefully, publications like Greenwich Visitor can pick up here?

    Though like Charlie, GT disappeared from our mailboxes here a while back, probably as its riverside (a strange assumption that new people aren’t interested in local issues?).

  9. GT was a master class in self-congratulatory narcissism. The smug, arrogant “Aren’t we wonderfully wonderful” front page, week after week, made me feel queasy. I hugely enjoyed lining my wheelie-bin with GT after rubbish collection day as, no doubt, did many others. In that regard, I shall miss it but, fear not!
    I can rely on the Evening Sub-Standard to do the same job.

  10. The What’s On page is useful especially for events like Global Fusion at Charlton House and the Alexandra Players. Greenwich Visitor is great , but only once a month.

  11. I’ve hardly received Greenwich Time at all in the past year or so, and I live in an old neighbourhood. I wonder what the excuse is. When I did get it, I always found something of interest, but its overwhelming political bias and dishonesty by omission are inexcusable in a publication disguised as a newspaper. It is an insult to the concept of freedom of the press.

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