WIRRAL’S ruling Labour group appears locked on collision course with the government after deciding to push ahead with publishing the council’s own monthly "newspaper."

The contentious scheme was approved by seven votes to six when a scrutiny committee met to debate the proposal.

Now opposition councillors have asked secretary of state for communities and local government Sajid Javid to step in as the move appears to break rules set out in the "Publicity Code" for local authorities.

The code says local authority publications should be restricted to just four per year - Wirral is planning to publish twelve.

Tory group leader Cllr Jeff Green - who "called in" the proposal after it was approved by council cabinet earlier this month - said the decision to defy the code was "extraordinary."

He warned taxpayers to prepare to cover the bill for heavy legal costs and urged the government to call a halt to the plan.

Controversy was further fuelled when the council’s head of legal Surjit Tour refused to reveal independent advice he had been given after commissioning a barrister to examine the proposal.

Conservative and Lib-Dem councillors argued there was significant public interest in seeing this guidance as it would help inform their decision. 

They also felt that as the public had paid for it - to the tune of £1,200 - they had a right to know.

But Mr Tour was adamant, explaining that parts of the QC’s review contained commercially sensitive information.

However he acknowledged there was "a risk" of the secretary of state intervening.

This could lead to an injunction and judicial review in the High Court. If this were to happen and the council lost, it would be liable for costs.

But his opinion was that mitigating circumstances surrounding the Wirral publication would be sufficient to remove this possibility.

“That is my view - but the secretary of state may take a different view,” he said.

He pointed out the departure from the code’s four-per-year frequency rule was “significant” but remained confident the council was acting within the law.

Simon Westrop, legal chief of the Globe's parent company Newsquest, was called to address the committee and underlined the risk posed by breaking the rules, explaining that Greenwich council in East London had recently forked out £48,000 in costs after falling foul of the code.

Championing the proposal cabinet member for engagement and communications Cllr Matthew Patrick said government austerity cuts meant “more local people than ever before need information about our services and it is our duty to provide it.”

He believed the council’s own publication will save money as well as improve communications.

“Our recent residents survey showed many were unaware of our services in areas where they desperately need them," he said.

“That need has been identified and we intend to meet it. Simple as that.”

Councillor Green said afterwards: “We have urgently referred this to the department for communities and local government.

"I find it extraordinary that the cabinet should continue along this road knowing full well it will bring them into conflict with the secretary of state.

“That will prove extremely costly and Labour is once again playing fast and loose with taxpayers’ money.

“The crux of this matter comes down to council spin and state-funded propaganda.”

The 28-page publication will be delivered through 150,000 letterboxes and 15,000 extra copies will be made available for collection at public buildings such as libraries and one-stop shops.

Costs estimated to be in the region of £240,000 a year will be met through reducing advertising spend in local media and supplemented by the council raising revenue by selling its own in-paper advertisements.