Speaking to a technical Motion, Councillor Chris Whitehouse (Conservative, Newport West Ward), who leads on communications in his role as Cabinet Secretary, told the meeting that over the last 5 years, nearly £600,000 had been spent on publicity in the County Press alone – mostly by the previous Independent Administration – and that it was, he said, time to review the way in which publicity is commissioned.
After the meeting, Councillor Whitehouse said:
“In these challenging times it is vital that we scrutinise every penny that we spend so that Islanders can be confident they are getting value for money. I’m not convinced that is the case at present.”
The councillor is working with the Assistant Chief Executive to review every aspect of the Council’s approach to communications on behalf of the current Conservative Administration.
Cllr Whitehouse added:
“The way in which Islanders use the media has changed dramatically since the last review. We now have two island-wide printed papers, the County Press and the Observer, we have a fantastic local radio station, Isle of Wight Radio, which has an informative web site used by thousands of local people, and the ever-more-popular Island Echo.
“We are also served by the BBC website and Radio Solent, along with Wave105FM, the Beacon and a host of excellent magazines. It’s only right that we look at what works best for Islanders in terms of accessing public service information.”
Some public notices must be printed by law, such as planning notices and road closures, but, says Councillor Whitehouse:
“These laws are half a century old and completely out of step with how most people consume media, so I will also be making representations to the Island’s energetic, effective and digital-savvy MP, Bob Seely, and Government Ministers to support the many councils which have already done so to ask that the cost burden of this approach be lifted.”
Commenting on the news, Darren Toogood, Editor/Publisher of Island Echo, has said:
“I welcome this week’s news that the way in which the Council spends tax payer’s money with the media is to be reviewed and I will of course look to work closely with Cllr Whitehouse and council officers to ensure that all opportunities are explored moving forward.
“In the past 5 years, the Isle of Wight Council has spent no more than £200 with Island Echo yet are known to have spent over £590,000 with our closest competitor. This doesn’t add up.
“Over the past couple of years in particular, Island Echo has grown to become a leading news source for Island residents of all ages. February has been yet another bumper month with a 50% year-on-year growth. Anyone reading this will agree, I am sure, that Island Echo is the go-to website for huge numbers of people and should be utilised by the Council in an appropriate way.
“The review comes as the latest ABC circulation figures reveal that the County Press’ average weekly circulation has dropped by over 1,700 (7.7%) to 21,245 in just 12 months.
“Aside from media spend, I will also be expressing my concerns about the way in which communications are handled during times of major incidents such as the Southern Water incident in March 2018. In this instance, it was Bob Seely MP that provided vital information for media and local residents and without his involvement we would have been somewhat in the dark”.