We take a break from the Wirralgate saga today to bring you the work of Dr. Robert B.Smith who has undertaken some excellent research trying to discover how the currently unnamed Wirral Council newspaper stacks up. Firstly he considers the ideological /strategic/operational impetus behind the newspaper and secondly the financial and practical implications.
Meanwhile we consider the pictures – taken from the Management Journal – serve as a warning as to the shape of things to come when the newspaper is published. As you can see “Stressed” Eric Robinson describes Wirral Council as going “from the brink of intervention to the pinnacle of local government” as he tries to lure 2 overpaid policy wonks to Wirral. Unfortunately we fear we are going to get much more of where that came from!…….
The burning question on everyone’s lips must be…”Why a newspaper?” When newspapers are folding (pardon the pun) and as technology and social media advances…”Why a newspaper”?. When the Council has what passes for a website with a ‘faceless’ homepage with ‘uber-cool tile icons’, but with inbuilt navigation problems, what does that say to visitors? Hardly welcoming when the world’s window on Wirral Council is obscured. It is like trying to see through thick fog, or into a room that has the blinds closed. But is that intentional?
Has anyone else noticed how much previous ‘archive’ stuff has not been moved on to the new, improved website, and, is it my imagination, or is it deliberately slow as well as being difficult to navigate? All subtle hurdles to frustrate the outside world seeking information.
Now Twitter…fantastic in the right hands…but you need to know your market, and how to use it, and Wirral Council has no idea.. Now, to Facebook…who doesn’t use Facebook nowadays? Not many people, but if you can squeeze the life out of a FB page, then Wirral Council is a success story. However, when Recycling is regularly recycling its own recycling information, that is the essence of recycling, captured on Facebook and when, by example, recycling comes into its own.
Wirral Council’s communication has always been poor, but maybe it suits Wirral Council for it to be poor? Not only might it suit for communication to be poor, but making what is available difficult to locate, or even understand, may that be part of a broader strategy?
But, back to the ‘newspaper’. The proposition made absolutely no sense to me on any level. Council services are being decimated, asset disposal underway, privatisation is a priority, and operational staff levels are being severely reduced. Girtrell Court has been closed, Lyndale School has been closed, both against massive public opposition or ‘the will of the people’. Consultants and chief officers are paid exorbitant salaries, and the council is failing as an organisation. However, council tax has increased, but budgets are reducing, and the best use of some of this increasingly scarce funding is…a monthly council NEWSPAPER!
If incompetence is going to be shrouded by smoke and mirrors, what better way to conceal incompetence than to be the sole source of information about your own organisation?. And here is the problem – for mandatory public notices, road closures, planning, etc., and other supporting council business editorial/copy, 4 quarterly editions will not be sufficient to influence public opinion, accommodate scheduling and deadlines for responses/objections, etc.
The ‘newspaper’ issue (pardon the pun) also brings a number of other questionable episodes of Wirral Council’s conduct into focus. Why does Wirral Council act in ways that indicate it thinks that it can flout its own policies, procedures, and codes of conduct, make many questionable decisions regarding legislative compliance, and actively ignore government guidelines, and not report a Minister’s critical letter in a report to Cabinet…or reveal the new staff posts?
The range of options for this ongoing ‘corporate behaviour’, given the range of dubious ‘episodes’, must start with stupidity at one end of the spectrum to knowledge of absolute impunity at the other. The question then being at which point in the spectrum is the reality?
And this is where the ‘bloody-minded pursuit’ of this ‘newspaper’ is such an important consideration.
Government guidelines regarding the issuing of a council newsletter/newspaper are very clear. Nobody needs to spend £1,400 of public money for legal advice regarding the number of issues that can be produced. You just need to be able to read (and understand). But why put the Council in a position of direct conflict with government regarding 12 monthly issues of this ‘newspaper’? In my opinion, it is the need for total control of council information from a council in crisis.
The Ipsos Mori ‘resident survey’ result which led to this ‘rude awakening’ for the Council and ‘a critical response from the public’ is totally at odds with many other ‘critical concerns of the public’ which have been passed over, or systematically bulldozed out of the way.
I have undertaken my own research into the costs of producing this Council ‘organ’ and requested some additional information from Mr MacManus, who was very helpful during the Ipsos Mori survey. It made a refreshing change from FOI requests, and that is how things should be, for an accountable Council. Not everything contains commercially sensitive information, an impression created continually in certain quarters of WBC.
Your readers may wish to examine Wirral Council’s latest organ specification, and make their own estimates. The environmental impact assessment I have undertaken is rather scary as well. Maybe the Council hasn’t done one…?
The financial and environmental costs will be significant, and far in excess of the estimates. More service reductions then…except in Legal, the Press Office, and Recycling maybe…didn’t someone mention ‘jobs for life’ somewhere along the way?
WIRRAL COUNCIL proposed ‘NEWSPAPER’ – all estimated budget figures from Wirral Council Cabinet report, or directly from Wirral Council.
Year Full Cost
advertising spend Income Net Cost
2016-17* £118,980 £39,000 £79,980
2017-18 £237,960 £85,800 £152,160
2018-19 £237,960 £94,380 £143,580
2019-20 £237,960 £103,818 £134,142
* 6 editions are planned and budgeted for in 2016-17.
“The publication will be delivered to all 147,000 Wirral households, all 7,500 Wirral businesses and see an additional 15,000 copies distributed to high-footfall locations such as supermarkets, hospitals and train/bus stations. We will additionally develop a new website to carry similar information as well as make better use of social media and other digital channels”.
…council expenditure and income estimates; print run; distribution; pagination range
…total no of copies per edition 169,500
…total number of editions 12
…first full financial year – 2017- 2018 base estimates used
… to estimate the overall cost an average of 32 pages per edition is the datum
…finished to A5 is not an option as a newspaper/newsletter carrying paid-for advertising promoting a council
…advertising rates are pro rata from full page advertising cost – and advertising may be distributed throughout the edition
…to estimate the quantity of stock (paper) required, the reference sizes are finished A4, and finished A3
…to estimate the total weight of paper required, an average of 80g/sq.m is used.
12 monthly issues – total 2,034,000 units printed in 2017 – 2018
2017-18 Full year cost £237,960
Net cost £152,160
Unit cost 7.5p including promoting and securing advertising, setting, printing, collating, finishing, delivery and distribution, plus presumably, additional ‘lifecycle/environmental costs’ of disposal/collection and recycling.
2017-18 – Advertising income total for full year £85,800 (£7,150 per edition)
2 pages of adverts 16 eighth page @ £446.88 per eighth page
8 quarter page @ £893.75 per quarter page
4 half page @ £1787 per half page
2 full page @ £3,575 per full page
…or the above in combination, and distributed throughout
4 pages of adverts 32 eighth page @ £223.44 per eighth page
16 quarter page @ £446.87 per quarter page
8 half page @ £893.75 per half page
4 full page @ £1,787.50 per full page
…or the above in combination, and distributed throughout
12 editions create 65,088,000 pages whatever size format is used @32 pages per copy
A4 finished size is A3 folded; 4 A4 pages per sheet of A3; 8 sheets of A3 provide 32 x A4 pages.
A4 finished ‘newspaper’ @ 80gm/sqm – total unit weight = 80g
A3 finished size is A2 folded; 4 A3 pages per sheet of A2; 8 sheets of A2 provide 32 pages.
A3 finished ‘newspaper’ @ 80gm/sqm – total unit weight = 160g
Annual weight of ‘news’paper to be produced, delivered, set, printed, finished, distributed and discarded/collected and recycled is:-
A4 finished size – 162,720 Kg (358,736 Imperial lbs, or just over 160 Imperial tons of paper)
A3 finished size – 325,440 Kg (717,472 Imperial pounds, or just over 320 Imperial tons of paper)
Given the estimated unit cost it will not be Royal Mail, or an equivalent, delivering to every household, business, or ‘pick up a copy’ distribution ‘hub’.
It will not be sent out in the Wirral Globe or equivalent, as it has been stated they do not deliver to a significant number of areas.
If household and business delivery factors in a ‘minimum’ wage, or ‘living wage’ element for individual distribution of copies, what will be the average delivery time in rural Wirral v urban Wirral for complete distribution?
Further to my independent ‘review’ of the proposal, this ‘newspaper’ cannot possibly be produced, printed and distributed to in excess of 154,500 individual addresses, (and disposed of?) for 7.5p per copy.
For info – stock paper sizes and area (apologies to all who know this already!).
A0 has an area of one square metre.
Divide it in 2 you get 2 A1,
divide again you get 4 A2,
once more 8 A3,
and again 16 A4,
and finally 32 A5