Chancellor George Osborne today published the government’s promised consultation paper on whether business rates should be cut for local newspapers.
In his last pre-election Budget in March, Mr Osborne promised to consult on business rate relief for the local press industry to help it adapt to the digital age.
The full document has now been published tdoay to coincide with the Chancellor’s first post-election budget and can be downloaded here from the Treasury website.
It suggests that any rate relief introduced as a result of the consultation will be temporary until local newspapers have put themselves on a more stable financial footing.
The document states: “The purpose of any relief would be to help local newspaper publishers as they adapt to changes and put themselves on a long-term sustainable financial footing.
“It is likely therefore that any relief would be on a temporary basis.”
The consultation will run until 30 September, with the government wanting to hear from a wide range of stakeholders about the challenges currently facing local newspapers.
“The government understands that many local newspapers have vacated high street offices to reduce costs. A business rates relief may therefore provide a temporary boost to allow local newspapers to reduce their costs while they establish themselves in sustainable premises,” says the document.
The consultation paper holds out the prospect of rate relief both for small offices occupied by local journalists and larger operations such as warehouses or subbing-hubs.
“The government could, for example, choose to fund a relief that reduced business rates only for office space occupied by local newspaper journalists and reporters, on the basis that many local newspapers use offices and can struggle to meet the costs of doing so,” says the document.
“Alternatively, it could take a broader definition of property occupation and include property used for wider activities such as publishing, storing or distributing newspapers to local communities.
“This could see the relief expanded to included warehouses or publishing hubs, if the need for financial support with occupying these types of property was clear.”
A foreword jointly written by culture secretary John Whittingdale and communities secretary Greg Clark describes local newspapers as “an important element of effective local democracy.”
However it acknowledges that the industry has faced “a number of challenges” over recent decades.
“The steady migration of services from print to digital has meant most local newspapers have had to reassess their business strategy and restructure their resources in order to adapt to an increasingly diversified marketplace,” it says.
“We committed in our manifesto to support local newspapers as they adapt to new technology and changing circumstances. We want to understand better the challenges currently faced by local newspapers occupying property in their local areas and whether a relief on their business rates bills could help support them.”