Sunderland councillors unhappy with funding magazine

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Opposition councillors have attempted to block a funding grant used to promote local projects in Sunderland’s Vibe Magazine.

This month, Sunderland City Council’s (SCC) five area committees were asked to approve £5,000 each for area updates in the free magazine.

The funding – from strategic initiative budgets – will pay for double page spreads across four editions next year with an aim of promoting committee-backed projects.

At SCC’s West Area Committee on November 14, two Conservative and four Liberal Democrat and Others group councillors voted against the funding.

Lib Dem councillor, Stephen O’Brien, speaking at the meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre, said: “What are we going to get? Good news stories?

“I worry we’re giving yet more money to this magazine that’s heavily subsidised by the council anyway.”

The comments follow questions by Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors at the East Sunderland Area Committee on Monday, November 12.

This included concerns over Vibe’s editorial policy, fears it could be politicised and suggestions the funding would be better-used elsewhere. 

In Sunderland West, the £5,000 grant was approved by Labour councillors who voted 8-6 in favour of the funds.

Committee chairman, Peter Gibson, stressed that “no one individual will be promoted, just the group.”

He added: “We’re obviously not subsidising it enough as they have asked for more money.”

Labour’s Coun Pat Smith also raised concerns about distribution, claiming magazines are “not getting delivered to where they should be.”

Cabinet member for communities and culture, John Kelly, has since claimed the updates are about “councillors getting information out direct to the communities they serve by the cheapest means available.”

Speaking after the meeting, he explained: “All councillors will have the option to feed into the process to ensure that their residents have a full opportunity to gain access to funding for residents’ groups, children’s groups and sports groups.

“The £5,000 funding from each area committee will be used to buy space in every edition of Vibe Magazine to keep people informed about the projects, events and activities area committees organise and fund, and how they can get involved in these.  

“All area committee members will have the opportunity to contribute content to these community pages.

“This could be anything from holiday activities for children to opportunities to apply for grant funding for local sports clubs and community groups.”

Conservative Coun Antony Mullen, speaking after the meeting, added: “The Conservatives voted against funding Vibe Magazine because we do not think it represents value for money and we have concerns about its circulation.

“£5,000 for such a small amount of content, spread across several issues, is not justifiable. That money could be better spent elsewhere.”

Vibe Magazine is produced by several partners including Sunderland Business Improvement District (BID), The Bridges Shopping Centre, Gentoo Group, Sunderland College, Sunderland Association Football Club and the University of Sunderland.

A Vibe Magazine spokesperson added: “Vibe is a politically neutral publication that’s only agenda is to share positive news about our fantastic city.

“As with any publication that is delivered door-to-door, distribution cannot be guaranteed and it does not reach gated communities or closed buildings.

“However, we always aim to ensure that additional copies are supplied in publicly accessible places across Sunderland, to allow people to pick one up if they happen not to have received it.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service