Harringay online

Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

When I first lived in Haringey, I remember being interested in reading the Haringey People. From what I recall its remit was broader, covering topics like local history and the like.

Now when I read it, I see a cog in the Council's PR machine. The ONLY stories covered are ones which speak to the achievments of the council. I know of several people who have tried to get the magazine to cover local, non-political, non-contentious local interest stories. None have even had the courtesy of a reply, let alone the mersest hint of a small mention.

So what is this magazine? I'm sure it serves some purpose and does provide some information. But the type of information and the editorial spin is so very selective, I don't think I'd be hysterical in asking whether it's little more than propaganda. Look at the next/last issue and tell me what you think.

All of this led me to submitting a Freedom of Information request on the cost. I recently received my reply. Both request and reply area attached.

The reply was drafted by the deaprtment responsible for publishing the magazine. I found it rather defensive. Highlights from the reply from my perspective are:

Annual cost: £348,000 + 1,000 FTE hours per year - probably another £20,000. Total = £370,000 approx
Distribution: 100,000 - £3.70 per household per year
Quote from reply: "A clear majority of respondents say that the magazine is their main source of news about the council.....respondents see it as more important than all the local newspapers combined."

So, the least independent, least objective publication in the borough is the MAIN source of news for most people about the Council. Any alarm bells ringing yet?

It costs my road about £550 a year. That's around £25,000 for all Harringay.

Good value?

Tags for Forum Posts: freedom of information, haringey people, local newspapers

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I wonder what the picture would be if one could find out what is the total annual spend on "PR" related activity across the Council. And who exactly is this PR serving?
Hugh, this is disgusting. I never knew this rag cost that much. I have tried looking at it a few times, but like you say, it's the council blowing their own trumpet, so now it goes straight in the recycling box, never bother to read it. If people love it so much, why don't they sell it on subscriptions to those who read it, and not expect the rest of us to pay for it?
I wonder if other boroughs do this too. I guess the money comes from our council tax. It should be funded by the local Labour Party office's coffers as it is, as you say Hugh, blatant propaganda.

I am one of those people who tried approaching this magazine regarding North Harringay Primary's installation of solar power 3-4 years ago; the largest solar installation in Haringey, if not North London. They weren't interested. The magazine is a farce.

Well done for exposing the cost. I think you might find the local newspapers would be interested in creating an angle on this. :)
Well I work in research and I'd love to see the exact wording of the question they asked to find that "A clear majority of respondents say that the magazine is their main source of news about the council.....respondents see it as more important than all the local newspapers combined"! It does contain a few useful things (like info on recycling) but as you say, most of it is just a publicity puff for the Council.

And rather shocking it costs them £30k per issue (which is what I make it if there are 12 issues a year). Doesn't seem that reasonable to me in terms of what they produce.

To be honest, am not that impressed with any of our local press really - the local free paper rarely seems to cover issues that I think are important (like the Arena shopping centre chaos, traffic in general etc). This is why this site is so good, like Hannah says somewhere else you suddenly find there are lots of people who seem to think the way you do!
10 issues a year. So that's......well you do the maths.
37 grand!!!
Robert Gorrie (shadow cabinet minister for finance and Lib Dem councillor for Hornsey) agrees with you. See the Haringey Advertiser 13 Feb 2008, p. 4:

"He [Gorrie] said the [Haringey] council could save £500,000 if it halved the number of its personal assistants, £100,000 if it cut members' allowances by cutting three cabinet posts, £350,000 if it cut council 'propaganda' and £500,000 if it scrapped one in ten vacant posts ... He [Gorrie] added that magazines like Haringey People were a waste of taxpayers' money and some £170,000 could be saved if the council halved the number of copies it produced."
Picking up Hugh's earlier point about the local press, their reponse to his post
On the Strategy Consultation Again - Question to our Local Press has been less than impressive.
We are very badly served by local papers, screaming headlines about crime or sad 'human tragedy' is all they are interested in and all the People is good for is the diary page at the back.
Of course you could always read the informative Green Lanes Strategy Group Newsletter Issue 3 if you want to know what they are doing to improve our area.
Repost of my 14 Feb reply with updated links. (Annoyingly any internal links made prior to the change of domain name to Harringayonline.com no longer work)

Interesting. Thanks for that Helen. I guess that also links to the earlier forum posts about councillors' pay What your Councillors cost you and Councillors' Pay Bill Soars
On the subject of Haringey's PR machine, you may be interested to know how much the Council has spent on PR at our Charity which they control, Alexandra Palace.

Between January '05 and November '07, the Trustees (i.e. Haringey Council) have spent £182,200 on a PR company called Lexington Communications. Is it any wonder the place sometimes runs at a deficit? Lexington Communication, who are also a registered lobbyist, may have been retained in the first place, partly because of their casino-lobbying experience. Some in the Council want a casino at AP and they managed to insert the promise for a small casino in the (currently stalled) Lease to their favoured property developer, Firoka.

Lexington appear to have had a small hand in shaping the Gambling Act 2005, because in the back of the DCMS Gambling Review Body’s recommendations of 2001, Lexington are listed in Appendix E as having made representations (presumably, on behalf of a casino company, possibly the Noble Organisation, at least one of their casino-clients).

Every penny of our taxes the Council spends on PR - in the hope of gaining re-election - is a penny not spent on general services and a penny denied from helping the poor in our Borough. The obsession with spin, presentation and media-manipulation has got to stop. We can't afford it!
This discussion thread raises important general issues. I suggest taking a look at the Code of recommended practice on local authority publicity. Here's the link:

The section Why have a Code (paras: 1-3) sets out the nub of the problem. In includes this:
"Local accountability requires local understanding. This will be promoted by local authorities explaining their objectives and policies to their electors and ratepayers."

Personally, I don't think endless smiling photos of Cllr John Lewis-List increase local understanding of complex issues. On the other hand, dry documents probably won't be effective either. We need information and issues presented in a lively, chatty magazine format - with photos and colour. A bit like HarringayOnline website!

The Code continues:
"In recent years authorities have increasingly used publicity to keep the public informed, and to encourage greater participation. Local authorities also need to tell the public about the services which they provide. Increasingly, local authorities see the task of making the public aware of the services available as an essential part of providing all kinds of services. Good, effective publicity, aimed at improved public awareness of a council's activities, is to be welcomed."

But the Code also recognises that local government is a political environment. So it sets out principles to ensure that decisions on publicity are made properly.

I'm probably as sick of 'spin' as anyone. But if Clive wants to ban all publicity expenditure as spin, we will have to agree to differ. I don't know about the PR firm at Alexandra Palace. But the Ally Pally is one area which could benefit enormously from much more clear, factual, comprehensive and - as far as possible - objective information easily and publicly available. But that doesn't come free.

Alan Stanton

Yes, I am a Labour councillor. And no. This comment has not been written for me and approved by the Party nomenklatura or paid apparatchiki.



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