Before Christmas the Manchester Evening News Group (now owned by Trinity Mirror) met with Salford Council officers in a formal bid to print and distribute the Council's Life In Salford magazine.
According to a Council report seen by the Salford Star, the idea was to turn Life into a tabloid and distribute it inside the Salford Advertiser, and by hand to those 38,609 households which don't get the Advertiser delivered.
The deal would have meant financial savings for Salford City Council but ethically it stank.
From Salford Council's view there were "reputational risks" and "the impact of our profile and messaging when placed within a commercial newspaper". An officer pointed out that "There could be a situation where the newspaper editorial is critical of the council with the council publication inserted inside".
From a citizen's point of view there would have been the whole question of the neutrality of the MEN Group, when relying on Salford City Council for such a large contract. Questions would have been asked about pressure on Salford Advertiser journalists not to be critical of Salford Council on days when Life was being distributed. None of this was mentioned in the Salford Council report.
In the end, Salford Council weighed up the financial savings against the "less satisfactory distribution methodology" and "reputational risks linking publication to uncertain newspaper editorial" and Salford Council Leader, John Merry, "did not wish to pursue this proposal".
At the time of the meeting between Salford Council and the MEN Group, Life In Salford was still a monthly magazine and the contract would have been worth well over £100,000.
Since that time, as revealed by the Salford Star recently (see here), the ConDem Government has introduced a new code for local authority publicity which explicitly prohibits councils from publishing or commissioning newsletters or news sheets more frequently than quarterly.
Salford Council intends to abide by the new code and thus Life In Salford will revert to being a quarterly publication from May onwards with a yearly budget of around £50,000 (inclusive of adverts). Printing and distribution will now be put out to competitive tendering. Had a deal been struck with the MEN Group it is doubtful whether this would have happened as there is no mention of it in the report seen by the Salford Star.
The new Government code also includes "partnership publications" which could mean that any Salford Council sponsored magazines, like the East Salford `Essence' (ex NDC) paper, would bite the dust. Council officers are seeking clarification on whether the Council's What's On Guide and community committee newsletters are also under threat.
In their place, Salford Council is looking at the possibility of launching a free subscription e-mail newsletter, which would exclude the many people in Salford without access to the internet.
In the Government's new code there is a whole list of what a local council can and can't do around publicity issues. But as Salford Council's legal advisors state, "there are no clear enforcement powers if there is a breach…the only means of enforcement is in the form of complaints to the council or local auditor from members of the public."
Salford Council has issued no publicity, or publicly available minutes, on anything around the new code or Life going monthly, or its dealings with the MEN Group.
See the history of Life In Salford...
* LIFE BEGINS TO LOSE MONEY click here
* LIFE MAD MAG COSTS click here
* SALFORD STAR WARS click here
* SALFORD COUNCIL DRAGGED BEFORE COMMUNITY click here
* THE PRAVDA FACTOR click here