Calls Renewed For Business Rates Relief For Local Papers

Calls for Rishi Sunak to expand the business rates relief scheme for local newspapers have been renewed after Northern Ireland announced a further 12 months of relief for local news media there.  

Local newspapers in Scotland and Northern Ireland benefit from business rates relief schemes designed to ease the pressure on businesses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The News Media Association is calling on the Chancellor to expand the business rates relief scheme for local newspapers, warning that title closures are imminent if Government support for the industry is not forthcoming.

In a letter to Mr Sunak in the New Year, the NMA outlined three measures, including business rates relief, that could be implemented immediately or as part of the March budget to support journalism which has played a vital role in keeping the public informed during the coronavirus crisis.  

The first support measure is targeted support for public interest journalism such as a refundable tax relief system whereby bona fide, recognised publishers are able to claim back a proportion of salaries of existing qualifying reporters deployed to cover public interest journalism and to incentivise and fund the employment of new reporters specifically for the areas outlined above.

Secondly, the existing business rates relief scheme for local publishers could be expanded providing a “quick and straightforward way” to provide immediate assistance to local publishers who are most at risk from the new lockdowns.

Under the proposal the existing scheme, which provides a helpful but modest discount of £1,500 on business rates for office space occupied by local newspapers, would be increased to 80 per cent in line with other relief programmes and the scope of the hereditament would be expanded.  

“We strongly recommend that these measures be implemented immediately to help local publishers mitigate the damaging effects of the new national lockdowns on their businesses,” the NMA said.

Thirdly, a tax credit for advertisers who place their advertising with specific UK-based categories of media, – such as radio, television, newspapers and magazines – which invest in valuable UK content such as journalism could be introduced.

Announcing the new relief for newspapers in Northern Ireland, Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: “When I met with the industry representatives, it was clear to me that action needed to be taken to support our local newspapers as they are a key part of the fabric of society.

“Local newspapers reflect the local community. Nothing interests people like local news and people have a real affinity and connection with their local paper. For many it provides a platform and voice on issues that matter to them.

“These newspapers have experienced a significant loss of income as a result of the pandemic and I am pleased the Executive agreed to my proposal to extend the rates holiday as it demonstrates the importance we place on their role.

“It will help ease the pressures our local newspapers face and will ensure they can continue to be part of the backbone of our local communities.”