Holyrood backs call to extend business rates relief for Scottish press

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HOLYROOD has backed calls to extend business rates relief for struggling newspapers, piling further pressure on SNP ministers to change course.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes confirmed last week that she intends to withdraw the current 100 per cent relief for newspaper offices at the end of March.

The move provoked an outcry from opposition parties at Holyrood, who accused her of throwing local newspaper outlets “under the bus”.

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Rates relief for the retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation sectors is due to be extended for at least three months from April at a cost of £185m.

But when Ms Forbes announced the move in the draft Scottish budget for 2021/22, she left out newspapers, which are also covered at present following a vote by opposition parties in May. 

It would cost around £1m to extend the rates relief for newspaper premises for another three months.

MSPs have now backed a Conservative motion in Holyrood calling on the Scottish Government to extend rates relief to newspapers. 

They also supported a call by Scottish Labour urging the Government to ensure its advertising budget “is invested in a way that supports innovative journalism and regional and local news”.

A motion by SNP public finance minister Ivan McKee removing the call to extend rates relief and instead urging “all parties to bring forward their tax and spending proposals as part of the ongoing negotiations on the Scottish budget” was defeated by 63 votes to 62.

Speaking in Holyrood, SNP business minister Jamie Hepburn said: “We are serious in our intent to support newspapers, but we do have concerns that non-domestic rates relief is not the most efficient or cost effective way to respond to those long-term challenges facing the newspaper industry.”

Scottish Tory MSP Graham Simpson said if newspapers die, “so does democracy”.

He said supporting news publishing helps the Scottish Government reach wide audiences. 

More to follow.

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