The Audit Commission was asked in digital britain to review the state of council publications, newspapers etc. Their report to Stephen Timms has emerged on their website (despite carrying an embargo for Monday 25).
There is something in it for everyone but overall it damns expensive council newspapers with faint praise. The Commission rightly defends councils’ need to communicate. But the Audit Commission’s core role is assess value for money and impact of spending on council performance:
We cannot draw strong conclusions at the national level about the value for money and impact of communication spending from the data available. There is not a significant relationship between levels of recorded communication spending and a number of different outcome indicators drawn from the Place Survey or earlier Best Value Performance Indicators. Some commentators have cited relationships in a single year, for example between how well-informed residents feel and the extent to which they think the council provides value for money, as evidence of the importance of council communication spending.
However, there is no relationship between changes over time in key variables, undermining any conclusion that council communication spending has a demonstrable causal impact. Frequency of periodical publication is also not significantly correlated with key outcome measures such as satisfaction with the way that councils run things.
I remain of the view that it is wrong for a branch of government to publish something that looks, smells and feels like a newspaper with editorial (eg ‘how well we are doing’). It isn’t good for democracy, especially at a time when traditional local media is in decline.
Councils do have to communicate – it’s vital that local people know and understand what the council does for them. But Councils should focus on equipping local people with the skills to communicate for themselves to hold local services to account – the sort of thing talk about local does. That’s the modern way of doing it – not the C19th newspaper.
( Thanks to Kevin for the tip)