Readers will be aware, if not particularly riveted, by my unending criticism of the ‘Crawley Times’ and the very pro-local Tory party stance it has taken. Indeed, a not especially interested in politics colleague remarked to me the other day that it seemed to be a vehicle for the promotion of Mr Henry Smith, Maidenbower county councillor and leader of West Sussex County Council. I found myself unable to disagree with this astute observation.
Anyone with an interest in local government and politics would agree that a strong, independent local press is an essential element in holding those who consider they govern us to account.
Sadly, the ‘Crawley Times’, proprietor Johnston Press, seems to take the view that ‘he who pays the piper plays the tune’, hence the expensive and lavish full page advertising by West Sussex County Council. This expensive advertising is all the more surprising because the Crawley Times is a very low circulation newspaper, and struggling Johnston Press is closing titles around the country, rather than opening new ones. Which makes the Crawley Times even more of an aberration.
As I have previously pointed out, there is an audit trail leading fron the West Sussex County Council press and publicity budget direct to the boardroom of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Effectively, Crawley council tax money is being siphoned off to bail out Scottish businesses that are in difficulty.
In an attempt to find out what sums of money are involved, I made a Freedom of Information request, and have received the answer I have published below. It seems the county council are going to make it too expensive for an ordinary citizen like myself to get the information requested. What, you may well ask, are they hiding? Is there another scandal, not quite of the MPs expenses level, that hasn’t been revealed. And is a rank amateur like myself capable of uncovering such a scandal, should it exist?
Anyway, here is the answer I got, from which you can draw your own conclusions.
- Dear Mr. Irvine Ref: FS-Irv
Freedom of Information Request –Newspaper Advertising Expenditure
I am writing regarding your further Freedom of Information request, which I received on 24th March 2009. In that request, you asked us for information regarding newspaper advertising for specific titles for the period 1st September 2008 to 1st March 2009.
With regard to your request, we estimate that the cost of the more detailed analysis to comply with your request would exceed the relevant limit of £450 specified in regulations for local authorities. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 2 1/2 working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information.
Under section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act the Department is not obliged to comply with your request and we will not be processing your request further.
However, I can give you the total Advertising/Publicity expenditure for the period in question. This total is £516,241.27. Please note that this total does not include recruitment advertising.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
Right of Appeal:
West Sussex County Council provides you with the right to request a review of this response under its complaints procedure. If you decide to request a review and are not satisfied with the outcome, you then have the right to direct your comments to the Information Commissioner who will give it consideration. The address is as follows:
The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow
Cheshire. SK9 5AF.
Note that the advertising costs I requested were for the Crawley Observer, Crawley Times and the Crawley News.
The figure in the reply is £516,241.27. I emailed back to ask if this figure referred only to those titles. As I have not received a reply, I can only assume that it does.
Half a million quid on publicity in six months? Wouldn’t the voters prefer this money to be spent on repairing the roads, on schools, and on social services.
I only ask.