Final edition of Greenwich Time raises budget questions

Greenwich Council has published the last ever edition of Greenwich Time, after losing a costly legal battle to save the weekly paper. Labour councillors, who have been strongly criticised for wasting £80,072 on the legal challenge, are now facing questions on how the nearly £600,000 a year net cost of Greenwich Time will now be spent.

Opposition Conservative councillors proposed a motion calling on Labour Leader Denise Hyland to issue a public apology for wasting taxpayers money on the legal bid in January, after the Council abandoned its legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s instruction to cease production of its weekly paper.

Cllr Hyland was forced to admit at the meeting that the Council had spent £64,722 on legal costs and £15,350 on staff costs on the bid. The controversial newspaper had previously determined to be in breach of the Local Authority Publicity Code, with the government deeming it “not objective”, “not even handed” and published weekly in contravention of the Code. After this week’s final issue, the Council will only be able to publish “newspaper-like” communications a maximum of four times a year.

Conservative councillors will use a council meeting on Wednesday (29th June) to press the Council leadership on how it intends to spend the nearly £600,000 a year of council taxpayers’ money it has previously admitted was the net cost of producing Greenwich Time. According to the council’s figures the “net cost of publishing” the paper was an average of £596,677 in the five years to 2014/15.

Councillor Matt Hartley, Leader of Greenwich Conservatives, said: “After all these years, this appalling misuse of taxpayers’ money has finally come to an end. The only reason that Greenwich Time has existed all these years is that the Labour Party knows it helps them win elections. That’s why they were willing to waste £80,000 of our money on their desperate, last-ditch legal bid to save the paper – something for which Greenwich taxpayers still deserve a public apology.

“We now need to know how Labour councillors intend to spend the nearly £600,000 a year of taxpayers’ money that they have been wasting on Greenwich Time for all these years. Opposition councillors will not allow this money to simply disappear in the council’s budget, especially when cuts are being made elsewhere.

“The fact that this week’s Greenwich Time is the last ever edition is the result of years of campaigning by those who value freedom of speech in our local politics, including Cllr Spencer Drury, Nigel Fletcher and other Conservative councillors past and present. This is a big step forward for democracy in our borough.”