DEMOCRATIC STRIFE IN SALFORD
In the October 2009 issue of Salford Council's Life In Salford, a lady called Lyn, from Boothstown, wrote in saying that she'd like to see the magazine scrapped and the money spent on "necessities and not sending free magazines to all the households in Salford."
The reply, presumably from the Council, stated that "If we stopped producing the magazine we would not save any money as we would have to publish all our notices in a newspaper…and place adverts for events like Proms in the Park in local newspapers…"
Er, just one problem – for the vast majority of people living in Salford there is no `local newspaper' unless they're willing to fork out for it in local newsagents. Is it pure co-incidence that ten months on since Salford Council withdrew thousands of pounds worth of its advertising from the Salford Advertiser, the paper is no longer being delivered free to homes in Salford?
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that over the eight issues of Life between March 2009 and October 2009, the Council spent just over £63,000 of its own advertising budget on Life in Salford magazine, as well as a further £36,664 subsidy to prop it up.
The average costs for actually printing and delivering Life in Salford over the eight issues were £107,719 (or £13,464 per issue). And while the Council says that it "does not hold records allocating staff costs to the publication", a report circulated to councillors as Life went monthly shows staff costs (`writing', photography, layout, graphics etc) at £1,870 per issue.
If our sums are right, the Council is spending an average of £15,335 per issue on actually producing the magazine, plus £7,879 from its own advertising budget which it puts down as `income', plus a subsidy of £4,583. This makes a total of £27,797 per month on Life in Salford magazine, or a yearly average total of £333,564.
Advertising income from outside the Council for these eight issues amounted to just over £19,000, most of it coming from publicly funded bodies like the NHS, The Lowry and government departments.
As the Council spends almost £28,000 per month on Life, an Audit Commission Review of Council Spending on Communication with the Public, published yesterday, states that "Claims about the value achieved by communication spending are not well supported by evidence"…
While the Review looked at `council periodicals' from a national perspective and therefore didn't come to any major critical conclusions, it did add that "Councils need to assure themselves of the quality of their communications and the value of their communication spending".
Quality wise, some might say that Life has a lot to answer for – the current issue interviews the same businessman twice, the November issue carried two photos of Council Leader, John Merry, subliminally claiming responsibility for easing unemployment, and just over a year ago Lib Dem councillor Steve Cooke, resigned from Life's editorial board arguing that the magazine "provided a thin veneer of democratic respectability to an often misleading and relentlessly and unjustifiably upbeat publication".
We would argue that Salford Council spending £333,564 of Salford residents' council tax on its own publication has profound implications for democracy and accountability. While the Salford Star and the Salford Advertiser are only available free online, an estimated two thirds of Salford's population do not have access to the internet.
The only free printed information people are now getting about their city comes courtesy of Salford City Council and its Life in Salford magazine. With no criticism of the Council, no debate, no accountability, low quality content and bucket loads of public money showered all over it…
What Salford Council spends just on staff for Life magazine per month (£1870) would sustain the printing and production of the Salford Star indefinitely…
* The Salford Advertiser has stopped delivering to sections of postcode areas M4/M5/M7....while M3 never got it.