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There are fears that, despite MSPs last week backing a move in the Scottish Parliament to give the media a 100 percent business rates relief package, companies such as local newspapers could now lose out on government advertising designed to help them weather the coronavirus pandemic.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant says she is dismayed that the Scottish Government may not now go ahead with the £3million it previously announced for advertising support for the media.
Mrs Grant was pleased when MSPs backed the business rates relief move by 41 votes to 38. But she has now written to Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, asking if she will clarify the position on advertising support to local, online and national news outlets.
Last week an amendment was passed by MSPs for current Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus Reliefs) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 to be extended to the media sector, despite the SNP voting against it.
John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, commented: ‘We understand the financial pressures local and government face, but while news publishing is under severe pressure it will have a significant role to play in the recovery and we are delighted that the opposition parties recognised the need to extend emergency business rates relief to news companies.
‘This will make a significant difference to their ability to save jobs and survive the pandemic to continue serving their communities at a time when advertising is down by around 75 per cent. ‘
But Mrs Grant warned: ‘I am delighted that the newspaper sector will now be able to benefit from Non-Domestic Rates Relief, however, the newspaper industry is not out of the woods yet and also needs the advertising support.
‘To give with one hand and take away with another would be incredible and smacks of the Scottish Government throwing its toys out of the pram because they didn’t get their way.
‘I’m hopeful the media can get both avenues of support because they certainly need it at the moment.’
Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Mike Russell, who was leading for the Government, argued it was difficult continuing to add to the £3.5 million another £3.5 million, £4 million or £5 million.’
The Scottish Government announced on May 14 that it will invest £3million into marketing activity in addition to the £440,000 already invested in advertising and public health messages.
Mrs Grant’s fellow Highlands and islands MSP, Donald Cameron (Conservative), added: ‘There is a vital public interest in ensuring that the future of locally-based journalism is secure.
‘Local and national decision-making must be subject to scrutiny and people need access to local information that they can trust.’
CAPTION: Premises used for the production of newspapers, such as the Lochaber Times, pictured, are now eligible for 100 percent rates relief in 2020-21.