Council Tax revenue being used for 'propaganda'

Opposition politicians question funding of HM Magazine

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Opposition politicians in the borough of Hounslow are claiming that the Council is spending local tax payers' money on propaganda. It is alleged that the Council are effectively cross-subsidising HM Magazine by directing their advertising budget to the magazine which has failed to attract significant private sector publicity spending.

Chiswick councillor, Peter Thompson said, "one does have to wonder how the magazine is self-funding when it seems to be carrying fewer and fewer advertisements from private businesses and services and more and more
adverts for jobs at Hounslow Council! I certainly hope that the Council isn�t using it�s PR budget to fund HM on the quiet!".

A report has been presented to the Council recommending that £60,000 funding be given to HM Magazine to cover the cost of an editor, administrative help and associated costs of the magazine for this year. The current situation is that the editorial resources for the magazine are 'borrowed' from the communications team at the Council but the new funding would enable a full-time dedicated editor to be taken on. Other costs of the magazine such as design, printing and distribution would be covered by advertising.

The magazine follows the trend in local government to publish in-house magazines or newspapers which local authorities claim will meet their statutory duty to keep residents informed. Mayor Ken Livingstone controversially launched 'The Londoner' newspaper at a cost of several million pounds. It has been alleged that this was partly done in retaliation for stories that the Evening Standard published about his personal life.

A large proportion of the ad space taken in the magazine has been by Hounslow Council itself or organisations associated with the Council. They claim this has allowed them to save money on their advertising budget although the quoted cost for a full page advert in the magazine is £2,150. The Council have refused to reveal how much in total they, and related bodies, have spent on promotion through the magazine. The redirection of the advertising budget to HM has lead to a loss of business for other local media. The Council are not currently using local web sites for any form of publicity.

Camden Council recently sought a special order in parliament which allowed it to publicise its planning notices on-line and a recent report by Ove Arup commissioned by the deputy prime minister's office concluded that on-line publicity was the most effective medium for reaching residents.

No figures have been provided to confirm the readership or level of response from HM Magazine. 95,000 copies are distributed fortnightly but it is believed that many copies are placed directly in recycling boxes. Ironically, by increasing the amount of publicity material distributed the Council improves its chances of reaching recycling targets as they are assessed on the weight of material they recycled.

HM Magazine has previously attracted controversy when it was discovered that it was being distributed along with Labour party campaign leaflets prior to the recent local elections. The Council blamed the distribution company for not following their instructions.

August 28, 2004