Holyrood Votes For Business Rates Relief Extension For Newspapers

The Scottish Parliament has voted to continue business rates relief for local newspapers after MSPs from all opposition parties rallied behind a Conservative Party motion to extend the support measure into the next financial year.

A Scottish Government amendment which tried to make the issue part of the ongoing budget process failed by 63 votes to 62, increasing pressure on the SNP administration to extend the rates relief scheme for newspapers in Scotland .

The News Media Assocation is calling on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the business rates relief scheme for local newspapers, as politicians in Northern Ireland and Scotland back extensions of the support.

In a letter to Mr Sunak in the New Year, the NMA warned that title closures are imminent if Government support for the industry is not forthcoming.

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.

In a Holyrood debate yesterday on Conservative MSP Graham Simpson’s motion to extend the support, MSPs said it had been vital in keeping the public informed during the pandemic.

He said: “It is not a one-way street. Analysis has demonstrated the effectiveness of advertising in Scottish news brands, and it is clear that supporting news publishing helps the Scottish Government to reach wide audiences—in particular, the elderly and those who live in areas with poor connectivity?

“Emergency rates relief has been extended for news publishers in Northern Ireland, and most European countries have some support in place. For example, Denmark has provided €24 million, Lithuania and Estonia have subsidised home delivery and France is putting in €337 million over two years.”

“Small publishers are being disproportionately affected. The 150-year-old Nairnshire Telegraph was forced to stop publishing at Christmas and the Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free Press suspended publication, although it has since restarted.

Supporting the motion, Claire Baker MSP, Labour, said: “Local newspapers are also part of our communities and our culture. Many are historically part of their communities and provide local employment. News publishers help local businesses market their goods and services and they advertise many local jobs.

“Our local press is among the most trusted of the news and information sources that we have. We must support it in continuing to deliver for our communities, not undermine it by removing support and relief at this critical point.

“During the pandemic, the role of our press has become even more important as people have sought accurate and timely local information that is relevant to their community. The regional basis of restrictions has meant that, for many people, the local press is the obvious place to find up-to-date advice and information, whether online or in print.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Lib Dem, said: “Throughout the pandemic, local news sources have been some of the most valuable and trusted sources of information in our communities. In a world of fake news and misinformation, the local press stands true.

“Whether it is The Galloway Gazette or The Orcadian, which turns 150 this year, local press organisations have proved themselves to be an integral part of community spirit and community life and a critical source of information. I understand that the UK and Scottish Governments face a momentous task in rebuilding our economy and that difficult choices must be made.

“However, the pandemic has taken so much from our society already, so let us not allow it to threaten one of the tenets of our national democracy and local communities. I gladly offer my party’s support for the motion.”

Colin Smyth MSP, Labour, said: “The pandemic has brought home to us all how important the role of local newspapers is, not just in keeping readers up to date with stories affecting their lives in their community but in providing a reliable and trusted source of information.

“At a time when verified and factual public health advice has never been more essential and in the face of the plague of misinformation that we see every day on social media, the trusted journalism from our local newspapers is crucial.”