Payments from local councils to local press

At the recent Revival of Local Journalism conference the Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council, Ged Fitzgerald, reminded the audience of local journalists that he’s obliged to use local newspapers to publish statutory notices for planning, road closures and “all sorts of technical type stuff.”

That costs his council about £150,000 per year and overall costs the public sector £26m (that figure according to Fitgerald but a report by the Local Government Information Unit  puts it at £67m).

Fitzgerald claimed: “nobody ever reads them and nobody ever responds to them,” but the newspaper industry has made it clear to government that they should stay in place, he complained.

Hyperlocal media operations play into this debate for a couple of reasons. Firstly, many of them have significant local online audiences and also, in some areas they serve localities that might no longer have local newspaper representation.

Wrexham.com and Forestgate.net are two hyperlocals that have put in Freedom of Information requests and Talk About Local have voiced their concerns about the practice.

I think the current state of play is that the government isn’t likely to make any changes here. Certainly the summary given in written evidence by The Newspaper Society on the Deregulation Bill in March 2014 would suggest so.

Anyway, I was wondering how much this practice costs Birmingham City Council. The long route to finding out is an FOI request but you can get a global figure on how much the City pays the local newspaper group (Trinity Mirror) by looking through the list of payments that the council publishes. This does give which council department makes the payment but doesn’t say what it is for so the figure below may include other items such as printing costs (if it uses Trinity Mirror’s printing services) or job ads.

However, I suspect this figure is largely for statutory notices:

Birmingham City Council paid Trinity Mirror £198,068 in the last 12 months (June 2013 – June 2014)

MONTH TRINITY MIRROR MIDLANDS LTD TRINITY MIRROR GROUP TRINITY MIRROR PUBLISHING LTD TOTAL
July 2013 £32,163 £32,163
August 2013 £551 £864 £1,415
September 2013 £1,614 £2,592 £4,206
October 2013 £14,163 £14,163
November 2013 £25,088 £900 £25,988
December 2013 £918 £3,050 £3,968
January 2014 £27,241 £1,260 £28,501
February 2014 £36,608 £3,428 £40,036
March 2014 £3,723 £1,098 £2,178 £6,999
April 2014 £23,324 £1,510 £24,834
May 2014 £7,429 £900 £8,329
June 2014 £6,564 £903 £7,467
£179,385 £6,354 £12,329 £198,068

(full tortuous working out in this excel spreadsheet which includes breakdowns for each month on the separate tabs)