I’ve been banging on about East End Life for as long as I’ve been covering Tower Hamlets council and, following a meeting with him at the Tory party conference last October, I predicted here that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles would try to limit its publication by putting it under some form of statutory footing. On Tuesday, he announced he would do exactly that.
There are several views on this subject and BBC London did a small item on its news bulletin two nights ago (failing by the way to broadcast the views of a single Bengali resident).
The following is a guest post by Robert Scott, a resident of Wapping, a postgraduate student at Leeds University and an activist in the Tower Hamlets Labour party:
BBC London News recently featured a short segment, which outlined Eric Pickles’ intention to limit councils to printing four free newssheets a year, which heavily featured Tower Hamlets. Eric Pickles and the residents featured in the piece raised important questions regarding motives costs and the effectiveness of council newspapers. Considering East End Life costs ratepayers £1.5million per year, I don’t think it can be accurately described as a freesheet and I have doubts whether those costs are recuperated by advertising. [TJ: they are not and, as a senior accountant at the council has admitted to me, that £1.5million does not even include all the costs.]
Councils are required to place public notices in two local newspapers. I don’t know how much that would cost but I don’t believe we’d get anywhere near to £1.5million a year. Anything above this basic requirement is optional and whilst it is valuable in certain instances, it ought to be reassessed in light of local budgetary constraints. The council’s communication chief Takki Sulaiman made a really poor effort defending East End Life in the segment:
“It’s about services, it’s about community groups, and it’s about community cohesion. Local authorities have a duty to promote community cohesion, race equality, a reduced fear of crime and promote healthy lifestyles.”
Whilst local authorities ought to be doing all of those things, East End Life is not the principal way or even a particularly effective way of achieving any of them.
THEOs (Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers), useless though they are in responding to crime, play an important role in reducing the fear of crime. If you want to promote healthy lifestyles, why not look into the possibility of introducing universal free school meals for primaries like they have in Newham and crack down on the number of chicken shops in the borough?
If you want to promote community cohesion and race quality then supporting and getting involved in more community events might be a good place to start. You don’t need a weekly newspaper to do any of those things.
We need more support for grassroots initiatives rather than set peace propaganda delivered on a weekly basis and that’s only if you’re one of the lucky few who actually receives the paper: many residents don’t.
Reforming East End Life has the potential to release a lot of money that can facilitate other initiatives. The value of East End Life in its current form is questionable in the best of times, which is reinforced by the comments made by residents in the video. I think we’ve reached a point where the council ought to get rid of it altogether and think of ways to replicate some of it’s more useful functions at a reduced cost or in the very least severely reduce its publication and distribution in order to plug gaps in funding elsewhere.