Local newspapers praised at Holyrood in bid to save trusted media

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The work of local newspapers such as the Lochaber Times has been highlighted at Holyrood as opposition parties united to call on the Scottish Government 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 recently, 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…’

Last week, MSPs voted for the Scottish Government to extend business rates relief for newspapers for another year amid warnings the sector could face collapse due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

West Scotland MSP Maurice Golden, who spoke during the debate and is the Scottish Conservative Party’s shadow economy secretary, said 3,000 jobs across Scotland depended on the newspaper industry, not to mention the vital role they play in upholding democracy in Scotland.

He said: ‘It should be a priority for this SNP government to help bring these papers back from the brink before they are lost forever. There are 3,000 people directly employed in the newspaper industry in Scotland, all of whom face a threat to their job because of SNP inaction. The industry is on its knees, with advertising revenue crashing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

‘This is about saving jobs and protecting a vital part of our democracy, and the SNP government should never have let it get to this stage.’

And Tory MSP Mr Cameron also 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.

‘I find it extraordinary 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.’

Speaking to The Lochaber Times, 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.’