A little local difficulty for regional ministry

Byers: "another banana skin"

Trouble-prone Stephen Byers has found himself under fire from editors after his giant department admitted that its annual £39,550 newspaper bill does not include one English regional morning, Sunday or evening newspaper.

The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) takes all the national daily and Sunday papers.

To keep in touch with events in Ireland, Germany and France, it also has The Irish Times, Die Welt, Le Figaro, and Le Monde delivered from Monday to Friday. Ministers and civil servants also read The Scotsman and The Herald though their writ does not run in Scotland, where the Scottish Executive is answerable to the Scottish Parliament.

But as well as ignoring Welsh and Northern Ireland papers, junior local government minister Alan Whitehead admitted that the DTLR’s Victoria headquarters does not take a single English regional daily, though it is responsible to Parliament for local government in England, English roads, the railways, and the regions.

The DTLR’s preoccupation with the capital is underlined by the disclosure that it takes 85 copies of the London Evening Standard, 47 copies of the City’s favourite paper, the Financial Times, plus 11 copies of Lloyds List.

The department’s reading priorities contrast with that of the Wales Office where 50 civil servants work under Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary.

Murphy told Conservative frontbencher Tim Yeo, who quizzed ministers about their newspaper subscriptions, that as well as taking the national and Sunday newspapers, the Wales Office takes the Western Mail, Daily Post, South Wales Echo, South Wales Argus, South Wales Evening Post, Wrexham Evening Leader and Wales on Sunday.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: "It is clearly another banana skin for a minister supposedly responsible for the regions and, without meaning any disrespect to our national newspaper colleagues, the minister might muse that all the research shows that regional papers are the ones which readers value, and above all, believe."

A spokesperson for the Newspaper Society said: "I am surprised there are not some regional newspapers on the department’s list. It must be due to a decision taken by civil servants. Politicians themselves recognise that they must read local newspapers to keep in touch."

by David Rose

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