Change of heart on rates relief for newspapers 'a victory for local democracy'
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The Scottish Government's change of heart on rates relief for newspapers has been hailed as "a brilliant victory for local democracy and for the Highland economy".
Under proposals outlined today by Scotland's finance secretary Kate Forbes, newspapers will continue to benefit from 100 per cent relief for a further 12 months. There had been opposition concerns over its planned withdrawal.
Retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation businesses will also pay no rates during 2021/22, while charitable rates relief will not be removed from mainstream independent schools until April 2022 due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
Last week the Scottish Conservatives secured cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament for a motion calling on the Scottish Government to extend rates relief for the next year, with SNP MSPs voting against.
Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and the party's Scottish Parliament candidate Molly Nolan had written to Ms Forbes warning about the impact cutting rates relief would have in the Highlands.
Mr Stone said today: “We acted quickly to urge Ms Forbes to support local papers and renege on her plans to cut business rates relief for local journalism outlets. We have succeeded in our call for change, which is a massive relief for the journalism industry in the north."
Ms Nolan, the Lib Dem candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross at this year's Holyrood elections, said: “This is a brilliant victory for local democracy and for the Highland economy. If the SNP government was regularly this responsive to issues raised by opposition parties, the Highlands would be thriving."
John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, which represents the local, regional and national press, said: "We are both delighted and also relieved that the Scottish Government has accepted the will of parliament and recognised the massive challenges facing independent news publishing in Scotland. This will go a long way to ensuring that titles large and small can survive what remains an extremely precarious financial landscape."
Today's Scottish Government announcement follows confirmation of a further £1.1 billion of consequential funding arising from UK government coronavirus spending.
It builds on the three month' rates relief extension announced in the Scottish budget and will be taken forward provided the Scottish Government receives the funding already assumed from the UK budget on March 3, and that requisite funds are available to maintain existing support into 2021/22.
Other extra spending in 2021/22 arising from the latest consequentials includes:
- £120 million for mental health
- £120 million for affordable housing
- £100 million to support people on low incomes
- £60 million for schools to help pupils catch up on missed education
- £60 million for NHS recovery
- £45 million for heat decarbonisation, energy efficiency and fuel poverty
- £21.5 million for Scottish Enterprise
Separately, local authorities will receive an extra £275 million in the current financial year to address Covid-19 pressures, while a further £40 million is being made available to support the safe reopening of schools.
Ms Forbes said: “When I presented our budget last month I guaranteed to extend non-domestic rates relief further if I was given the necessary resources. I can now deliver on that promise, providing the UK budget in March delivers the funding we require.
“The other measures I am proposing today, including further support for hospitals, schools and local government and measures to tackle climate change, build on our priorities to ensure a robust recovery for our economy and public services.
“This welcome additional consequential funding was confirmed to us yesterday and I wanted give early notice to parliament and provide clarity to businesses.
“We are still in the throes of a national emergency and it is important parliament works together to respond. I will continue to work with all parties to help deliver a budget for the nation fit for these times.”
Jamie Stone added: "I hope the consequential funding from the UK government will remind the SNP government that if they really want to support local businesses and local democracy then we are better together."
Councillor Struan Mackie, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council and is the Scottish Conservative and Unionist candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross at this year's Holyrood elections, had warned last week that the withdrawal of emergency business rates relief from newspapers would be "a slap in the face" for the industry.