Scotland risks being the only European country not to offer a coronavirus support package for its independent news publishers.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has confirmed non-domestic rates relief for publishing businesses will come to an end on March 31.
Newspaper operators had been subject to rate relief as part of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020, which came into effect in May last year.
The Scottish Government did not support the introduction of rates relief, and said it would not do so in the current budget unless opposition parties made doing so a stipulation of it passing through parliament.
Additional commitment to advertising spending by the Scottish Government has not been forthcoming.
Scotland only democracy not to continue support
The Scottish media contributes around £1.2 billion into the country’s economy, with around 64% (£770 million) of that coming direct from newspapers and publishing, and supports thousands of jobs.
Director of the Scottish Newspaper Society John McLellan said removing the support would create an “immediate crisis” for the country’s newspaper industry.
He said: “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 .”
Threat to jobs
Scottish Conservative shadow economy secretary Maurice Golden said: “It is extremely disappointing the SNP have yet again decided not to support our newspaper industry at a time when we need trusted news sources more than ever.
“Newspapers were rightly regarded as a key industry during the pandemic last year but the SNP failed to stand up for them then.
“The Scottish Conservatives have called for business rates relief to be extended for the whole of this year and it is a slap in the face to our newspapers that relief will end for them next month.
“People are turning to newspapers for vital information on the pandemic. This lack of support from SNP Ministers will only threaten jobs and livelihoods in the print industry in Scotland.”
Letter from Finance Secretary
Writing to the Scottish Newspaper Society, Ms Forbes said: “The Scottish Parliament approved the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020, which introduced 100% relief for news publishing from the day after the act received Royal Assent on May 26 2020.
“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, but if other parties wish to make changes to the Budget, then I am willing to consider proposals to secure its passage.”