Chancellor George Osborne has today announced a two-year business rate cut for the local press in a bid to bring newspapers back to town centres.
In last year’s Budget, Mr Osborne promised a consultation on business rate relief for the local press industry to help it adapt to the digital age.
Now he has gone further and announced a discount of £1,500 per office for two years from 1 April 2017.
The rate relief cut was not specifically mentioned in the Chancellor’s budget speech, but was contained in the small print of the Treasury documents published alongside this afternoon’s Commons statement.
Under a paragraph headed ‘Business rates: local newspapers’ it states: “The government will introduce a £1,500 business rates discount for office space occupied by local newspapers in England, up to a maximum of one discount per local newspaper title and per hereditament, and up to state aid limits, for 2 years from 1 April 2017.”
The move follows the consultation carried out last summer which held out the prospect of a “temporary boost” for local newspapers as they adapted to structural change in the industry.
It said: “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 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.”
The then culture secretary Sajid Javid said at the time: “There is no doubt that if funding was not an issue, the choice location for local newspaper offices – for residents and journalists – alike – would be in town centres, in a building that comfortably meets their resourcing needs.
“A relief on business rates for local newspapers should provide us with options for targeting these organisations so as to reduce their costs and support them to provide their vital function in our democracy.”
The Chancellor’s move has been warmly welcomed by industry leaders who lobbied for the change ahead of last year’s Budget statement.
News Media Association deputy chief executive Lynne Anderson said: “The NMA is pleased to see in the Budget this afternoon that the Government has progressed its initiative of business rates relief for local newspapers.
“Publishers have never sought direct public subsidy but local newspapers are vital to democracy and it is good to see the Government supporting a dynamic and vibrant local press. We look forward to seeing the full details of how the initiative will operate.”
Scottish government sources had also previously suggested that the move is likely to be extended to Scotland.
* How did the UK regional press cover this year’s Budget? Here’s a selection of today’s front pages.
The Northern Echo focused on Mr Osborne’s new sugar tax in its front page.
North-East rival The Journal went for the proposed infrastructure improvements in Northumberland as its top angle.
A campaigning front from the Yorkshire Evening Post, following up on its fight for more cash for flood prevention measures.
The South Wales Argus leads with the proposed cut in Severn Bridge tolls.
The proposed sugar tax also provides the main angle for an eye-catching Daily Record front, although we’re not sure about the name on the Chancellor’s can of Irn-Bru….