853 exclusive: Greenwich Council has put its advertising contract out to tender – spelling the end for council newspaper Greenwich Time in its current format.
A tender notice has been placed on the council website and on the official journal of the European Union seeking a provider that can “exclusively host our statutory notices and other Council advertising as required (non-exclusive) in a borough wide, weekly publication at a favourable rate”.
The decision to put planning notices and other council information out to tender appears to mean the council has ducked a legal battle with the Government over the controversial paper, which was outlawed earlier this year.
As well as being weekly, the publication must have an audited distribution to at least 95% of homes in the borough, along with pick-up bins and a digital edition.
The tender is said to be worth £400,000 per year for three years, with a possible two-year extension.
While considerably less than the £2.3m/year former council leader Chris Roberts and ex-chief executive Mary Ney – who retired last week – claimed the council would have to fork out if Greenwich Time was axed, the low sum is likely to only attract major publishers such as Mercury owner Tindle Newspapers and News Shopper proprietor Newsquest.
Indeed, that sum is likely to just cover the cost of distributing the paper each year. Last year, Greenwich spent £372,000 on distributing Greenwich Time, and charged council departments £404,000 for advertising in it.
This summer, it emerged that Tindle Newspapers had offered to take over Greenwich Time. However, Tindle’s policy of accepting ads from escort agencies and prostitutes is likely to count against any offer.
Another likely contender is council leisure and libraries provider GLL, which has previously been mooted as a home for Greenwich Time.
But does this mean the death of Greenwich Time? As a council-owned publication, it’s certainly the end – but there’s nothing to stop a publisher taking the title on.
And another line in the tender suggests Greenwich may take a closer interest in the editorial than some publishers would be comfortable with.
“The contractor will also be expected to ensure that the advertisements are published in the context of engaging local editorial content which helps to positively inform local residents about the measures that their neighbours and local service providers are undertaking to make the borough a great place to live, work, learn and visit,” the tender reads.
With a clause like that in an advertising contract, any editor may pause before commissioning any investigation into council services.
Greenwich is one of only two councils to publish a weekly newspaper – the other is Tower Hamlets, which today was accused of having a “culture of cronyism” by communities secretary Eric Pickles after a report into allegations of corruption was published.
It’s unlikely Greenwich’s Labour leadership relished the idea of being in court alongside the publishers of East End Life, dubbed by the party’s Hilary Benn in Parliament today as “little more than a vehicle of promotion” for Tower Hamlets’ independent mayor Lutfur Rahman.
Similarly, Greenwich Time was regularly lampooned for its regular appearances by Roberts, who made the paper weekly in 2008. Last year, it was admitted that he had the final say over the paper’s content.
Eric Pickles makes his front page debut in this week’s edition of Greenwich Time, pictured with new leader Denise Hyland in a story trumpeting success in health and social care services.
The change of policy on Greenwich Time comes alongside a second major change at the top of the council, with Mary Ney’s former deputy John Comber set to be confirmed as its new chief executive at Wednesday night’s council meeting.
9.10pm update: Greenwich’s deputy leader John Fahy seems adamant that Greenwich Time will continue – suggesting the council might well want to keep a close eye on editorial in wherever its ads end up going. After Tory leader Spencer Drury tweeted “hopefully this is the end”, Fahy replied: “Wishful thinking on your part.” Greenwich Time was “widely welcomed by the majority of residents”, he insisted.
— cllrjfahy (@Cllrjfahy) November 4, 2014
Update 11 November, 10.05am: For the benefit of those arriving from Roy Greenslade’s Media Guardian blog.... After this piece was published, Greenwich Council told the News ShopperI that the tender was “a contingency”, while at 5 November’s council meeting, Denise Hyland called the tender a “Plan B” and said she would fight closure – Conservative councillor Matt Hartley touches upon this.