South Ribble Council's newspaper has production slashed

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A newspaper published by South Ribble Council will appear only once in the run-up to next year’s local elections, after plans to produce three editions before polling day were scrapped.

It was the first act of the new Labour cabinet which seized control of the authority earlier this week.

READ MORE >>> The council newspaper making a comeback - and causing a stir

A revised proposal to distribute two editions of the freesheet was already due to be voted on by the previous Conservative administration, but further last-minute amendments were made before the council’s new top team met for the first time.

The ‘Forward’ publication has not been seen since last March, while a review was carried out of the way the council communicates with residents and businesses.

At the last cabinet meeting, the then Labour opposition had accused the ruling Tory group of “gerrymandering” by restarting regular distribution of the politically neutral paper ahead of the election.

But the Conservative cabinet at the time defended the move, saying that Forward was a vital source of information for residents and was being produced again while digital methods of distribution were being assessed.

As the new cabinet gathered, Mick Titherington, deputy leader of the council, called for a communications strategy “fit for the twenty-first century”.

“Before making any decisions in relation to the Forward newspaper, we need to have some evidence before us, rather than just anecdotes,” Cllr Titherington said.

A cross-party working group – which previously recommended that a monthly email newsletter replace all but one annual print edition of Forward – will now be reconvened to consider the future of the publication. The council’s current website is likely to need upgrading in order for an e-newsletter to be viewed on mobile devices.

The new edition of Forward will drop onto 49,000 doormats in South Ribble later this month. Residents will also receive a Christmas newsletter produced for each of the council’s neighbourhood forum areas, which will give details of festive events in the borough.

It costs just over £11,500 to produce and distribute the Forward, while the Christmas newsletter will cost almost £9,000.

Government rules state that local authorities should publish no more than four in-house publications each year, having regard to ‘sensitive’ periods close to elections or referenda.

Former cabinet member for assets, Warren Bennett, questioned whether the new publishing schedule for Forward would enable the authority to comply with its duty to report member allowances. The meeting heard that it was sufficient for the information to be made available via the council’s website.