Controversial plans by Tory chiefs to publish three editions of a council newspaper at taxpayers’ expense in the build-up to elections next May have been blocked.
A cabinet decision to deliver copies of Forward to all 49,000 homes in South Ribble in October, December and March was called in for further examination by the authority’s scrutiny committee after complaints.
Councillor Matthew Tomlinson, chairman of the scrutiny committee which met on Thursday, said: “Scrutiny have asked cabinet to reconsider - it has got to go back to the next cabinet meeting.”
The concerns were about the quality of the publication; three editions so closely together and whether it was value for money. It was felt an authority-produced publication should not be more than quarterly and that a working party had suggested an annual publication supplemented by electronic versions.
Before scrutiny’s decision, Labour leader coun Paul Foster, was one of five councillors who, suspecting political bias prior to the election, protested, saying the cabinet decision was contrary to Government guidelines and also ignored the recommendations of a cross-party working group on how the council should communicate with its residents and businesses.
“The cabinet has completely disregarded what the working group decided - they didn’t even consult with it,” he said. “And they didn’t consult with a cross-party editorial group which is there to ensure Forward is politically impartial and neutral. Considering the council hasn’t published one edition in the past 18 months and is now planning three in five or six months ahead of next year’s election at great cost is disgraceful.”
Council leader Mary Green, denied there was any political motive. She said: “The four copies of the Forward publication have been produced for many years under different administrations. The printing of the publication was paused to allow a review to take place on communication with residents. We will be consulting with them on their preferred method of communication from the council, be it digitally or printed format, but in the meantime there have been numerous calls from residents and local community groups who have requested regular written communication from the council.”