Response to Judicial Review judgment re Hackney Today
Last year Hackney and Waltham Forest councils brought a judicial review against the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, after he issued directions ordering them to stop publishing Hackney Today and Waltham Forest News on a fortnightly basis. The case was heard in court last month, and the judge has now ruled in favour of the Government.
After receiving the judgement today, the Council is considering its legal options and has reserved its right to appeal.
Mayor Philip Glanville reflects on the decision and the role Hackney Today has played in the borough.
We’re disappointed with the outcome of this judicial review and are considering our legal options, but I want to assure residents that whatever happens, we will do our best to make sure that they can continue to access the information they have received via a fortnightly Hackney Today since 2002.
The Government wanted us to stop publishing fortnightly because its guidelines recommend that councils not publish newspapers more than quarterly. At the same time, we are required to publish statutory notices in a newspaper at significant cost.
We rightly considered these guidelines, but always took the view that in Hackney the balance of evidence regards use of taxpayers’ money and informing our communities favours fortnightly publication.
It’s worth noting that Hackney Today has never been found to contravene the guidelines around being ‘objective’, ‘even handed’ or ‘cost effective’. The judge’s decision was based largely upon the view she took about the effect of changes that were made to the legislation in 2014.
Taking legal action was not something the Council did lightly, balancing carefully issues of risk and cost. However, our priority has always been about informing and empowering our residents, as well as making the most of our reduced funding, and we believe the strong case for continuing fortnightly publication of Hackney Today justified this judicial review. The money saved by not having to pay for statutory notices during this period vastly outweighs the legal costs we incurred.
As well as saving the Council tens of thousands of pounds by not having to pay to advertise statutory notices in the local press - and we will keep up our campaign to end this arcane practice - Hackney Today has always been by far one of our most effective and popular ways to communicate with our diverse communities. We know it is especially valued by our older residents, young families, social housing tenants, less affluent communities and people with disabilities.
We have been in dispute with the Government over this issue since 2011. During that time, local councils have been hit with the unprecedented cuts from central government, on top of a steep increase in demand for services from residents, who have been hit hard by austerity.
As well as promoting information about Council services, policies and opportunities, Hackney Today provides space for voluntary and community groups to promote their events, promotes the work of our local NHS, schools and other public bodies, and celebrates the diversity at the heart of Hackney. It has been invaluable to the Council in supporting people during austerity, informing them about complex issues and promoting community cohesion. It has never been about competing with our excellent local newspapers the Hackney Gazette and Hackney Citizen, indeed I'm on record saying how invaluable they are and the important role they have in holding public services and politicians to account.
Hackney Today also enabled us to share crucial information and reassurance with residents following the 2011 riots; during the Olympics we published weekly to keep people up to date about events and hyper local issues related to the Games that would affect them; we have kept residents informed about our campaigns to do with housing and improved transport links for the borough, and shared vital information about welfare reform and important issues that matter to them, like the Windrush compensation scheme and the Council's budget.
But, perhaps most importantly, it has celebrated Hackney in all its forms. From small community get togethers and fun days to huge events like Hackney Carnival and the Half Marathon, we have shone a light on unsung heroes and brilliant local initiatives...all the things that make Hackney such a special place. Just the other month, I was touched to hear an elderly gentleman talking on the BBC about how he found out about a local group through Hackney Today, and was now less isolated and enjoying life. That’s what Hackney Today provides and now more than ever, it’s crucial that are able to share this sort of news and information directly with residents.