Call for U-turn on newspaper rates relief

Donald Cameron MSP, pictured, who is the new shadow health secretary for the Scottish Conservatives at Holyrood. Photograph: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS. NO F34 Donald Cameron MSP 2

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A call has been made to reverse the decision to scrap emergency business rates relief for the newspaper industry.

Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron is among those calling on SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes to reverse the decision to call a halt to the help, which ends on March 31.

In a letter to the Scottish Newspaper Society last week, Ms Forbes told the society’s director John McLellan that while the ‘The Scottish Government recognises the difficulties the newspaper industry is facing…this relief will expire on March 31 2021 in line with what Parliament agreed. As you will recall the Scottish Government did not support the introduction of rates relief. This remains our position…’

This week Scottish Conservative MSP Mr Cameron came out in support of local media, saying: ‘I’ve been very impressed at how our local journalists have kept going during the pandemic and kept their readership up-to-date with what is going on locally.

‘They are doing a great job and deserve to be supported. Like community radio, they are hugely important as a source of news for locals.

‘I find it extraordinary that Kate Forbes can seriously be contemplating a situation which would leave Scotland as the only country in Europe not providing Covid-related support to newspaper publishers.

‘We have already lost some well-established newspapers in the region recently and a wrong-headed decision like this will put more at risk.’

Speaking to The Lochaber Times this week, Mr McLellan echoed Mr Cameron’s call, saying: ‘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.’