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MSPs vote for newspaper rates relief extension

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Opposition parties have backed Tory MSP Graham Simpson’s call for business rates relief on newspapers to continue into the 2021/22 financial year.

A Scottish Government amendment which tried to make the issue part of the ongoing budget process failed by 63 votes to 62.

The Conservatives pointed out that Scottish Government will extend 100% rates relief to the retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation sectors for at least three months from April at a cost of £185m. To do the same for the newspaper industry would cost only £1million.

During the debate Mr Simpson said a vibrant newspaper sector was “essential for local democracy” and added: “For democracy to thrive it needs checks and balances. That debate is very much live here in Scotland right now.

“A vibrant press is one of those checks and we must all be prepared to be subject to the full glare of publicity, good and bad.”

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Trade Minister Ivan McKee responded for the Scottish Government, saying newspapers had been supported in other ways including through advertising.

He agreed an independent media is “central to a strong democracy” and local newspapers were particularly important in holding power to account.

But he said rates relief was a “blunt tool” which could provide the biggest benefit to those who need it least and pointed to an investment of £3m through government advertising spend on public health information.

He added: “It is this advertising support that we have seen as the most effective way to direct resources into the sector. It enables more effective targeting where support is needed most, in particular towards those local newspapers which are the main focus of this debate.”

Afterwards, Daily Business editor Terry Murden said: “Trade Minister Ivan McKee said the government has supported local media through advertising.

“Well, to a point, the government’s buying agency recently told us it was focusing campaigns on social media, so it will be Facebook, Twitter who get the revenue.

“And do online only news media now qualify for the equivalent of rates relief? Like many small businesses Daily Business pays council tax, not business rates.”

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