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Industry chiefs warn of ‘crisis’ over plan to axe newspaper rate relief

John McLellan 1Industry leaders have warned of an “immediate crisis” facing Scottish newspapers after a plan to stop business rates relief was revealed.

Kate Forbes, the Scottish Government’s Finance Minister, has confirmed 100pc relief for media organisations is set to come to an end at the end of March, despite it being slated to continue for other sectors for at least three months.

The Scottish National Party-led administration had previously opposed extening full rates relief to newspapers last May when MSPs amended the Coronavirus Scotland (No2) Bill as it went through Parliament.

The SNP’s latest plan has been condemned by John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society.

John, pictured, said: “It is very disappointing to say the least that the Scottish Government is singling out news publishing for the withdrawal of emergency business rates relief, a vital financial support agreed by the Scottish Parliament, when the pandemic is far from over.

“This is in sharp contrast with the Northern Ireland Government which has just extended rates relief for its news publishers.

“Further, the Scottish Government has not renewed its commitment to invest in news publishing to communicate important public information about its pandemic response and its vaccine roll-out, at a time when private sector advertising in Scotland has collapsed because of lockdown.

“There is no doubt this creates an immediate crisis for Scottish journalism, and if these decisions are not reconsidered, it could leave Scotland as one of the few, if not the only, democratic European nations to effectively abandon independent news publishing.”

An editorial in Glasgow-based daily The Herald has also criticised the plan.

In it, The Herald said: “Since the pandemic shattered distribution of print copies and brought an almost total collapse of private sector advertising, the essential funding sources for newsgathering, this amounts to an abandonment of commitment.

“Journalism is not a sector that can survive on furlough. A major crisis is exactly when reporters cannot be put aside; they are key workers because at such times the public demands and has a right to verified, reliable access to the facts.

“It is regrettable but undeniable that the current administration’s record of transparency on several separate areas fails to live up to Ms Forbes’s ‘democratic accountability’.

“The Government initially refused financial support for the media, which had to be wrung from them by opposition parties. That suggests, if not outright hostility, no very great enthusiasm for the importance of a free and vibrant press.

“But this distaste for critical examination of its record does the Government no favours, even if it finds it awkward to confront awkward truths or have inconvenient aspects of policy brought up.”

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson told Newsquest daily The National: “The Scottish Government has invested £3m in the Scottish newspaper industry through increased advertising over the course of the pandemic.

“We continue to value high-quality journalism and have established a short-life working group to consider how to support public interest journalism. It is expected to make recommendations at the end of the summer.

“Details of the rates relief package for next year were announced in the Scottish Budget 2021-22.

“If other parties wish to make changes then we are willing to consider proposals to secure passage of the Budget.”

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