Oldham Council spent more than £500,000 in the last seven years purchasing newspapers, magazines and periodicals, according to figures obtained by MM.
Figures, requested under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that the cash-strapped council spent £62, 205.75 in 2014/15 alone, despite proposing 122 job cuts in December.
But town hall chiefs claim that, while the figures given to MM are accurate, the classification code used for such purchases is also used for other spending.
Councillor Abdul Jabbar of Oldham Council, Cabinet Member for Finance and HR, said: “The figures we provided are what we spend under our “newspapers, magazines and periodicals” account code.
“Those figures include legal and copyright licensing fees amongst others – which are costly – not just the purchase of publications.
“Due to the way we collect data we are unable to break down individual costs any further.”
Over the last two months, MM sought to clarify how much the Council were spending on newspapers, magazines and periodicals specifically, but were repeatedly given different explanations. Initially, a Council treasurer confirmed that the figures were “just for the purchase of external newspapers, magazines & periodicals”, but a council spokesman later denied this.
A series of different explanations were given to explain the high costs; with one explanation that the amount included a £62,000 fee to the Law Society, before this was later confirmed to be £5000.
In 2009/10, the council spent more than £110,000, whilst enforcing cuts of £10m, including 400 job losses and a major redundancy programme.
In contrast, Salford City Council, which has four more libraries than Oldham, spent £1079.50. The council subscribed only to The Guardian, The Independent and Financial Times and Manchester Evening News.
A spokesman for Salford said: “We try to keep up with information online as far as possible but not all articles are available online. We have reduced spending on newspapers to the minimum required.”
The second highest spending council, Manchester City, spent just over £28,000 in the same year.
According to invoices, the central authority spent £21, 506.50 on national newspapers in 2013/14. More money was spent buying the Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung (£842) than the Daily Mail (£540.80) and 15% of its budget was reserved for the Guardian (£5731.60). The Council spent £16,664 on the Financial Times – more than it spent on the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express combined.
A Manchester City Council spokesperson said: “The vast majority of the money spent on newspapers in the last financial year – 80 per cent of the total – was to provide the public with access to a range of newspapers through our citywide network of libraries.”
Typically local authorities spend this money to provide a range of reading material for the public in libraries. They will also purchase newspapers and specialist magazines for council staff.
Of the Greater Manchester authorities, only Stockport Council bought The Sun, despite the paper being one of the most widely read in Britain.
All Labour majority councils showed a strong preference for broadsheets, with every council purchasing copies of The Guardian and Financial Times, yet only four councils said they bought the Daily Mail.
Other Greater Manchester authorities all spent under £15,000 in 2014/15, as follows with Rochdale spending £9,849.30, Tameside £8,275, Bolton £6,242.40, Stockport £5,727.40, Trafford £4,293 and Bury £14,607.47.
Wigan Council refused to provide the details under the Freedom of Information Act.
Picture couresty of Jon S, with thanks.