May’s local elections saw the Conservative Council in Hillingdon returned to office with an increased majority, making a mockery of the Labour campaign centred around the hashtag #MarginalHillingdon.
In 2014, UKIP had stood in all 22 wards in the Borough, falling agonisingly close to picking up seats in Harefield and Yiewsley whilst affecting the outcome in many other marginals and establishing themselves as the third force in the locality. With no candidates standing this time, it reverted to a straight fight between the ‘big two’, with the Greens and LibDems not even making a dent despite aggressive campaigns in some target areas.
In my ‘home’ ward of Charville where I have stood before, the Conservatives took two seats from Labour in an unexpected clean sweep and their new team here have already made an impact in terms of getting things done on a local level – a welcome change from the invisible Labour Councillors during the last term of office. (It helps that all three are Charville residents)
However, whilst individual councillors on both sides of the floor are making an effort it would appear that there is no change at the top in terms of the running of both the ruling and opposition groups with Hillingdon residents the poorer for it.
The start of the year saw a familiar occurrence when an election is in the offing, notably the ‘special ward edition’ print runs of the Hillingdon People council magazine (Or ‘Pravda’ as many of us refer to it). This was also bolstered by banners appearing on lampposts proclaiming what a great job the Council is doing for residents with slogans such as ‘Council Tax frozen for 10 years’, neglecting to mention that in January 2016 the Council tax benefit for the low paid and disabled was cut.
With such propaganda being paid for out of your pockets, I once again submitted a Freedom of Information Request to find out how much had been splurged as my former colleague Jack Duffin had done previously in 2014.
The results are below and quite damning –
Dear Mr Dixon
I am writing in response to your request for information below.
As I understand it you are seeking to know:
1 – The amount of money spent on the council magazine ‘Hillingdon People’ since 2014 broken down by year, including the individual ward editions sent out this year just before the purdah period for the local elections. Please include delivery and design costs.
Hillingdon People is produced every two months, with six editions per year. The Hillingdon People Locals are produced every two years, with costs in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Hillingdon People is designed in-house by the Corporate Communications Service in addition to a range of other publicity and marketing materials – the cost of design is part of overall staffing costs.
Annual costs of printing:
2014 – £75,086.81
2015 – £67,622.18
2016 – £78,868.03
2017 – £79,626.64
2018 – £60,416.94 (to date)
Annual cost of distributing:
2014 – £31,664.60
2015 – £29,959.02
2016 – £34,343.30
2017 – £32,341.44
2018 – £22,189.46 (to date)
2 – The amount of money spent by the council this year on the advertising banners attached to lampposts around the borough bearing slogans such as ‘Council tax frozen for 10 years’.
The amount of money spent by the council on the lamppost banners in 2018 was £19,750.00.
3 – The amount spent since 2014 for online advertising broken down by year.
Amount spent on Facebook advertising since 2014:
January to December 2014 – £6,725.69
January to December 2015 – £3,490.71
January to December 2016 – £4,102.64
January to December 2017 – £2,182.37
January to present 2018 – £2,755.76
As you can see, these are not inconsiderable sums and the overall spend seems to be up this year if you take in to account that we are barely in to month 7. Couldn’t be because it is an election year, surely?
A few points also come to mind when seeing these answers as follows –
Firstly, ‘design costs’ for the magazine are listed as part of overall staffing costs on the Council. In the private sector, any project that is costed will include an hourly rate for staff time spent on said project – after all, if you were a builder pricing up a job for a roof repair then you couldn’t very well not factor in the wages for the men doing the work. Therefore, the £83k cost of production and distribution between Jan-July 2018 is likely higher when you have graphic designers working on a 28 page magazine every 2 months and 22 ward editions on a folded A4 leaflet that has been dropped off a week before the spending limits come in for the election. A further 4 figure sum added to this would not be unreasonable.
Secondly, as the FOI points out, the magazine runs to six editions per year. Government guidelines state that a maximum of four editions should be put out annually, something that led to a row between the Council and former minister Sir Eric Pickles during the last administration.
Thirdly, as a ‘community’ magazine it is interesting to note that Conservative councillors (Predominantly cabinet members) are mentioned in highlight three times more than residents who are running campaigns in their area. Moreover, Labour councillors assisting the community are not mentioned at all. Whilst I am no fan of the local Labour group, they do have some decent representatives who work with local residents on issues and campaigns that affect the community and surely should be mentioned as such in an ‘impartial’ council magazine?
Finally, when the Conservatives regained control of Hillingdon in 1997 they pledged to scrap the magazine as they considered it a ‘waste of taxpayers money’. In power, they have extended and enhanced it, pushing their narrative ahead of the public good at our expense.
With cuts to children’s centres, disability buses and the maintenance teams because of ‘cost’ , this use of your money on self promotion is an absolute disgrace.
It would appear that the ruling Conservative cabinet have taken some tips from The Politburo on how to influence hearts and minds….. If the ‘tache fits……
Above – Cllr Ray Puddifoot (left), Joseph Stalin (Right)