Bridport & West Dorset News, Views, Videos & Curiosities

Dorset cuts to cost local newspapers £45,000 a year

DORSET County Council hopes to save about £45,000 a year by reducing the size of its adverts about roadworks in local newspapers.

The move is part of the council’s efforts to save £48.6 million over the next three years.

Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders are normally advertised in paid-for newspapers rather than free publications, so the Dorset Echo, Bournemouth Echo, Bridport News and Western Gazette are likely to be most affected.

A spokesman said: “The county council currently spends around £50,000 a year advertising its own works and £60,000 advertising utility works – the latter of which is completely recoverable from the utilities so doesn’t cost DCC anything.

“We would be looking to reduce the £50,000 figure to around £5,000 by signposting – i.e. small ads in the papers directing people to our website to see all notices in full. This way we would still fulfil our statutory obligation of making public notices accessible.”

Councils are required by law to publish certain notices – such as lists of planning applications they have received – so it is impossible to stop paying for adverts altogether.

The last Labour Government considered whether councils should be allowed to stop advertising planning applications in local newspapers. The saving could have been £15 million a year. The proposal was fiercely resisted by the Newspaper Society, which feared for the public’s right to know about planning matters and for newspapers’ loss of revenue, and the idea was dropped in December 2009.

“I want frontline services”

The Newspaper Society’s stance was challenged by Rick Waghorn, the Norfolk-based journalist and entrepreneur who runs the online local advertising system Addiply.

In his blog, Mr Waghorn wrote: “In the current climate – as austerity bites ever deeper into those front-line services we hold dear – defending your right to demand payment for printed, planning application advertising isn’t a winner.

“It doesn’t wash.

“I want a lollipop lady outside my lad’s school; frankly, I’ll take my chances on whether or not South Norfolk District Council hide the planning application for a second floor extension to the semi in Conifers Lane…”

“The public has a right to information”

The Newspaper Society points out that not everyone has access to the internet. And it argues that the crux of the matter is not papers’ right to demand payment; it is the public’s right to know.

A spokesman said: “It is important to recognise that removing the requirement for councils to publish statutory public notices in newspapers would lead to a more secretive, less open local government and to many grass roots issues being decided without proper consultation and debate.

“This goes to the heart of the public’s democratic right to information and transparency and should not simply be dismissed as an unnecessary cost.”

He went on: “Publishers are working with their local councils around the country to help them achieve the most cost-effective method of communication. For example, we believe that councils in Cornwall have an arrangement in place which allows them to place unlimited public notices in their local papers for a set annual fee. This apparently works well for both the council and the publisher.”

The Society spokesman also cited adverse public reaction when councils tried to remove public notices and other advertising from local papers in Cornwall and in Lincolnshire.

Could there be an outcry about what Dorset wants to do with adverts about roads? The implications for newspapers could be significant. Say fifty councils all choose to save £50,000 a year in the same way; that’s £2.5 million gone from publishers.  

What do you think?

Dorset County Council’s move could (theoretically) cost a journalist his or her job, if we assume that the true cost of employing somebody is twice what they’re paid.

So, a senior reporter on £20,000 a year actually costs a publisher roughly £40,000: think expenses, desk, computer, pension, National Insurance, etc, etc.

(Note: this example is by no means perfect. For a start, the ownership of paid-for newspapers in Dorset is divided between Northcliffe and the American-owned Newsquest – and wages vary – but you get the drift.)

On the other hand, 500 council workers are expected to lose their jobs this year. Let’s pretend you’re number 501 on the list. Would you want Dorset County Council to keep spending £45,000 a year on publishing Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders in their entirety in local newspapers?

Editor’s Note: This is the second piece in an occasional series about otherwise unheralded Dorset cuts. The first piece was about Dorset County Council pulling out of the European Assembly of Regions.

UNKNOWN DETAILS: Does anyone know if an annual set fee is paid by Cornwall Council to local newspapers? And if it is, the amount?