Greenwich Time ads go out to tender: Is this really the end?

Greenwich Time

853 exclusive: Greenwich Council has put its advertising contract out to tender – spelling the end for council newspaper Greenwich Time in its current format.

A tender notice has been placed on the council website and on the official journal of the European Union seeking a provider that can “exclusively host our statutory notices and other Council advertising as required (non-exclusive) in a borough wide, weekly publication at a favourable rate”.

The decision to put planning notices and other council information out to tender appears to mean the council has ducked a legal battle with the Government over the controversial paper, which was outlawed earlier this year.

Greenwich TimeAs well as being weekly, the publication must have an audited distribution to at least 95% of homes in the borough, along with pick-up bins and a digital edition.

The tender is said to be worth £400,000 per year for three years, with a possible two-year extension.

While considerably less than the £2.3m/year former council leader Chris Roberts and ex-chief executive Mary Ney – who retired last week – claimed the council would have to fork out if Greenwich Time was axed, the low sum is likely to only attract major publishers such as Mercury owner Tindle Newspapers and News Shopper proprietor Newsquest.

Indeed, that sum is likely to just cover the cost of distributing the paper each year. Last year, Greenwich spent £372,000 on distributing Greenwich Time, and charged council departments £404,000 for advertising in it.

This summer, it emerged that Tindle Newspapers had offered to take over Greenwich Time. However, Tindle’s policy of accepting ads from escort agencies and prostitutes is likely to count against any offer.

Another likely contender is council leisure and libraries provider GLL, which has previously been mooted as a home for Greenwich Time.

But does this mean the death of Greenwich Time? As a council-owned publication, it’s certainly the end – but there’s nothing to stop a publisher taking the title on.

And another line in the tender suggests Greenwich may take a closer interest in the editorial than some publishers would be comfortable with.

“The contractor will also be expected to ensure that the advertisements are published in the context of engaging local editorial content which helps to positively inform local residents about the measures that their neighbours and local service providers are undertaking to make the borough a great place to live, work, learn and visit,” the tender reads.

With a clause like that in an advertising contract, any editor may pause before commissioning any investigation into council services.

Greenwich Time in the gutterGreenwich is one of only two councils to publish a weekly newspaper – the other is Tower Hamlets, which today was accused of having a “culture of cronyism” by communities secretary Eric Pickles after a report into allegations of corruption was published.

It’s unlikely Greenwich’s Labour leadership relished the idea of being in court alongside the publishers of East End Life, dubbed by the party’s Hilary Benn in Parliament today as “little more than a vehicle of promotion” for Tower Hamlets’ independent mayor Lutfur Rahman.

Similarly, Greenwich Time was regularly lampooned for its regular appearances by Roberts, who made the paper weekly in 2008. Last year, it was admitted that he had the final say over the paper’s content.

Eric Pickles makes his front page debut in this week’s edition of Greenwich Time, pictured with new leader Denise Hyland in a story trumpeting success in health and social care services.

The change of policy on Greenwich Time comes alongside a second major change at the top of the council, with Mary Ney’s former deputy John Comber set to be confirmed as its new chief executive at Wednesday night’s council meeting.

9.10pm update: Greenwich’s deputy leader John Fahy seems adamant that Greenwich Time will continue – suggesting the council might well want to keep a close eye on editorial in wherever its ads end up going. After Tory leader Spencer Drury tweeted “hopefully this is the end”, Fahy replied: “Wishful thinking on your part.” Greenwich Time was “widely welcomed by the majority of residents”, he insisted.

Update 11 November, 10.05am: For the benefit of those arriving from Roy Greenslade’s Media Guardian blog.... After this piece was published, Greenwich Council told the News ShopperI that the tender was “a contingency”, while at 5 November’s council meeting, Denise Hyland called the tender a “Plan B” and said she would fight closure – Conservative councillor Matt Hartley touches upon this.

13 comments

  1. Jane Barnett

    Sincerely hope its the last we see of that awful propagandist old rag. Good only for the litter tray

  2. maryorelse

    I was going to comment on Pickles -but perhaps not – sorry about people who put pictures of other people’s children winning sports prizes and so on in the litter tray.

  3. fromthemurkydepths

    It was great to know when returning to the borough recently, as I walked past much flytipped rubbish, cars blocking pavements (which the council almost never deal with), broken fences and walls, to name just 4 things in a pretty grim environment, that the money that could be spent on fixing these issues was being spent on a propaganda newspaper when I walked through the front door. Certainly got their priorities right at the town hall.

  4. marymills

    Oh come on Darryl! All those school kids should be what the private local press are reporting on – its a big thing for them to get their picture in the paper – and it will be in the family scrapbook or whatever. But do the local press do it?? No of course not; and you know that – do you really, really, really prefer a diet of crime, repeated crime and nonsense to actual real local events with real actual local people?? (I am not referring to the estimable Greenwich Visitor here)

    I have a lot of issues with Greenwich Time – but sticking all those young people in the bin with cat waste is an insult to their innocence. No other local publication is going to give them and whatever they have achieved any mention at all.

    Mr. Murky Depths – can we have a word sometime about the East Greenwich/Peninsula riverside – and maybe East Greenwich generally too.

  5. Darryl

    Mary, over the years, this website has documented the failings of the private local press – indeed, the original concept for GT seems to have been to emulate the Mercury in its 80s/90s pomp, with the “twirlies” and the kids and amusing photo captions of smiling coppers, etc.

    But using pictures of kids as the sugar costing on what is essentially a weekly attempt to shape perceptions of the council is not on. Just because Newsquest and Tindle have been squeezing their titles for every last penny doesn’t make what Greenwich Council is doing with GT right.

  6. marymills

    You see for years and years councillors – I guess all over the country – have felt misunderstood. There they are working away doing the best they can day in day out, and all their local papers can do is ignore them or get the facts wrong, or something.
    Now is this to do with style? – and/or lack of staff?. Look at – let’s say the Kentish Mercury in the 1850s. It reported what was then the Greenwich Vestry meetings almost verbatim in great long paragraphs of small print. Even in the 1950s there were long small print paragraphs – but they did list down all the kids who had won prizes at every sports day. I still have the cuttings about my elocution prize which my mum cut out of the Gravesend Reporter and kept. Guess that approach was all thrown out with the babies in the baby show.
    Just as bad as putting all those young people in the cat litter tray is not having something their mums can keep. In fact everyone would like to have their achievements noticed – or wouldn’t you include councillors in that??
    Just because two (or five, or thirty, or twelve) wrongs don’t make a right – doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep looking for a solution. So – ??

  7. Matty

    I still remember getting my name in the Andover Advertiser over 40 years ago for some sports event. In that sense, Mary is right. Maybe being published every week is a bit much but it is informative and as propaganda goes it’s hardly overbearing, eg preferable to the News Shopper editor ranting about lollipop ladies.

  8. Shivanee

    As someone who worked in government communications for a long time, I lost count the number of times I heard the phrase ‘hard to reach’ asking how do you get local people interested in services that are available for them and issues that concern them?

    Yes, the tone of GT could definitely be more neutral but at least it is promoting publicly-funded local services and initiatives – particularly helpful for the elderly and families. Putting on these events and then no one turning up – because no one knew is an even bigger waste of money! Perhaps the Shopper is nearing oblivion because it’s rubbish? Local news is lazy. You don’t need teams of staff roaming the streets to investigate anymore. A bit of desk internet research should turn up enough stuff for content. Even their free website is awful so who would actually buy a copy?

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  10. jjnse7

    As a mere Greenwich resident, rather than councillor or council comms worker, i think i would have more sympathy with GT supports if i really fely it did what they claim.

    Verbatim reporting of council meetings would be interesting in the sake of transparancy; although perhaps with a nod to the 21st centuary a web cam or recording would be a better alternaitve. A narative around upcomming and recent decisions would be good. instead what we get from GT seems to be far from neutral repoting on cherry picked projects that allow the council to bask in glory – tall ships anyone? Meanwhile i have to use local blog sites to discover things that really impact me like the decision to resite the skate park in (my local) Chalton park.

    Again if GT usefully promoted local events it would serve at least some purpose, instead the promotions seem to focus on a small number of concil events, often too late. On a number of occasions my GT has arrived promoting events that took place on the previous weekend or earlier in the week.

    Thats not to say i would entirely like to see that back of GT. i would miss the weekly discount voucher for the Charlton car wash!

  11. Shivanee

    jjnse7 – if you are referring to my comment, to clarify I really am not (and never have been) a Council comms worker! I agree with your comments….and as for the council’ website…..

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