Industry leaders have given a warm welcome to plans to cut business rates for local newspapers announced in George Osborne’s Budget yesterday.
Delivering his sixth and final Budget before May’s general election, the Chancellor revealed a consultation would be held on business rates relief for local newspapers in England.
He told the Commons: “Local newspapers are a vital part of community life. We are announcing a consultation on how we can provide them with tax support.”
The Chancellor’s tax break would be designed in part to help the industry adapt to the challenges of the digital age.
Further details of the announcement were contained in the 124-page Budget document accompanying the Chancellor’s statement which has now been published on the Treasury website.
It said: “Local newspapers are an important source of information for local communities and a vital part of a healthy democracy.
“To support them as they adapt to new technology and changing circumstances, the government will consult on whether to introduce a business rates relief for local newspapers in England.”
Any changes would not automatically apply to local newspapers in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland as the level of business rates there are devolved to the respective assemblies in Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont.
However the Scottish government today indicated it would follow the outcome of the English consultation.
A Scottish government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government will monitor the debate around the UK government’s consultation, reflecting feedback from across business in Scotland.”
Scottish Newspaper Society director John McLellan said: “This is obviously very good news for our colleagues south of the Border, but the conditions which apply there are similar to those in Scotland and we hope the Scottish Government will also undertake a review of the way in which Scotland’s local newspaper publishers are taxed.”
“They have had a tough time with the combination of structural change and a deep recession which has affected advertising and circulation revenues.
“But they are fighting back quite brilliantly and winning new readers on all of the different platforms on which they are delivering the news.
“Anything which helps at this time of transition is clearly welcome, so long as there are no strings attached.”
Lynne Anderson, deputy chief executive of the News Media Association, which represents local papers, said: “We await with interest the full details of the Chancellor’s proposed consultation on business rates relief for local newspapers.
“Publishers have never sought direct public subsidy and will continue fiercely to defend the independence of the press from political or statutory controls. But local newspapers are vital to democracy and it is good to see the government exploring different options to support a dynamic and vibrant local press.”
“We hope today’s announcement will help our industry continue to thrive.”