THERE’S something stirring up the road in peaceful, picturesque Northumberland that has worrying implications for local newspapers across the country.

Without warning, Northumberland County Council has stopped placing statutory public notices in the Hexham Courant, the newspaper with by far the biggest circulation in Northumberland.

The notices relate to vital public information such as planning applications, road closures and speed restrictions, and they have to be printed in local newspapers by law.

Instead, the local authority is placing the notices relating to the Hexham district in the Northumberland Gazette, based in Alnwick 50 miles away. The council says the policy has been adopted on a trial basis to cut costs and maximise administrative efficiencies, and that free copies of the Northumberland Gazette would, in future, be left in two prominent locations in Hexham.

We live in austere times and public bodies have to make savings but, if this was simply about cost-cutting, why has the county council not sought a meeting with the Courant? Indeed, why was the decision taken without even consultation with local councillors?

County councillors across Tynedale have asked the council’s chief executive, Steven Mason, for an explanation and the leader of Northumberland Conservatives, Councillor Peter Jackson, said: “The feedback received was deeply unsatisfactory and smacks of press regulation and censorship.”

Censorship. Now there’s a word which we should all be concerned about. The implication is that Northumberland County Council’s decision is about more than cost-cutting but stifling public information.

There’s also the suspicion that the decision was taken in response to the Courant criticising the authority’s handling of changes to leisure centre prices.

The danger, of course, is that any council which doesn’t like being held to account could “punish” its local paper by withholding advertising revenue that is part of the lifeblood of titles serving their communities.

Here’s what the Government says, via the Department for Communities and Local Government: “Legislation requires statutory notices to be advertised by local authorities in relevant local newspapers. Local authorities should abide by this legislation. If the public are concerned this is not the case, they should take this up with their local authority.”

The people of Tynedale are doing just that by signing a petition calling for the county council’s trial to be stopped. The Mayor of Hexham, Councillor Trevor Cessford, is also rallying the town council to protest.

I happen to think that local journalism – whether it is presented in print or online – is fundamental to local democracy and any attempts to undermine it should be fought as vigorously as possible.

ON Friday, I’ll be proud to host the Making A Difference Awards for the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust at Hardwick Hall, Sedgefield.

It may not be on the scale of The Oscars but it’s nevertheless an important occasion for those dedicated people who serve the NHS in so many different ways and deserve their place in the spotlight.

I suspect the organisers of every awards event from now on, big or small, will be taking a little bit more care with the winners’ envelopes.

As I said in a Twitter exchange with the organiser of Friday’s event after the nightmare in Hollywood: “We don’t want a Warren Beatty moment!”

Meanwhile, the Oscars fall-out continues with the pair responsible for the debacle, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, being told they’ll never be involved in the ceremony again.

They’ve even been given bodyguards after death threats on social media.

You couldn’t make it up – someone’ll make a film of it one day.

IN all my years of attending and compering awards events, two embarrassments spring to mind.

There was a sticky moment during one of The Northern Echo’s Local Heroes Awards ceremonies when a sponsor came up on stage to make a speech and declared the name of the winner before I’d even read out the nominations.

Stickier still was the time hundreds of people had gathered on Teesside for a business awards event and the “Woman of the Year” category had been reached.

As the name of the first short-listed finalist was read out, there was a whoop of joy from her company’s table.

To the astonishment of everyone in the hall, she then proceeded to run towards the stage, waving her arms in celebration at her triumph.

Imagine the embarrassment when she had to come all the way back to her seat because another four finalists still had to be announced.

You’ve guessed it – she didn’t win. Even now, it makes me cringe.

WORLD Book Day is a brilliant introduction to the calendar.

To celebrate, Visit England commissioned a survey and it showed that Yorkshire is the top county for holidays with a literary link.

Much Ado About Nowt if you ask me.

THE death of a family friend has us rummaging through some old photos and the one below popped up.

The young hairy one in the middle, pen and notebook in hand, is yours truly with fellow reporter Ruth Campbell, interviewing the legendary Alan Hull and bandmate Ray Laidlaw, of Lindisfarne.

We're outside the Hole in the Wall pub in Darlington in the 1980s. Sadly, Alan Hull passed away a few years later but his songs live on.

The Northern Echo:

AND, finally, just to underline last week’s announcement that thousands of packets of Quorn – manufactured in Stokesley – are being recalled amid fears that traces of metal might be inside.

Don’t say you haven’t been Quorned.