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July 10, 2024updated 12 Jul 2024 7:45am

Threat of Welsh council tax notices reform that sparked newspaper revenue fears is over

Public notice income provides a lifeline to local newspapers - but not all publishers benefit.

By Bron Maher

The Welsh Parliament (Senedd) has voted against a proposal to stop requiring local authorities to publish council tax notices in print newspapers.

The result prompted relief from many of the largest newspaper publications in Wales but consternation at smaller independent titles.

The proposal would itself have had a relatively minor effect on local newspaper incomes, but major publishers warned it could be a first step toward closing a revenue stream that keeps several Welsh newspapers alive.

Newsquest says six of its ten Welsh papers would be loss-making without public notices

The main purpose of the Local Government Finance (Wales) Bill was to add a requirement for the Welsh government to carry out council tax revaluations every five years.

However, as originally proposed by the Welsh Labour government, the bill also carried a clause that swapped the existing requirement for councils to publish tax changes in local newspapers to one that meant they would put them on their websites.

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On Monday six of the largest newspapers in Wales published front pages calling on the Senedd to “save Welsh news” and to “stop this attack on our industry”.

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The proposal was also criticised by the News Media Association, the Society of Editors and the National Union of Journalists.

On Tuesday Conservatives in the Senedd tabled an amendment to scrap the clause, which passed with the support of Plaid Cymru Members of the Senedd after Welsh Labour opted to abstain on the vote.

Across the UK, public notices, which can also include notices about planning and transport, are a major revenue stream for regional newspapers and have become more significant as subscription and commercial advertising incomes have dwindled.

Trade body the News Media Association estimated last year that public notices generate £40m for publishers a year, and in January Gavin Thompson, Newsquest’s regional editor for Wales, told the Senedd’s Local Government and Housing Committee that without public notice revenue “six out of our ten local newspapers would have been loss making last year…

“Local journalism better informs communities – on democratic issues, but also just in terms of promoting wider community cohesion. And if we look at our situation in Newsquest, if we removed six print newspapers because they were no longer making money, then those communities would be worse off for it.”

The Welsh Local Government Association has estimated local authorities spend around £33,000 a year putting tax notices in local papers in Wales, but Thompson told the committee that Newsquest feared dropping them would be “the thin end of the wedge” towards ending other types of public notices.

Hyperlocal argues Welsh government has ‘caved into desperate pleas from the big legacy media companies’

Some publishers did support the measure, however. Mytown Media, which publishes Mywelshpool.co.uk and Mynewtown.co.uk, wrote after the clause was voted down that the Welsh government had “caved into desperate pleas from the big legacy media companies”.

The publisher said: “Mywelshpool and Mynewtown, along with other widely read independent news companies in Wales, were supporting moves to support Powys County Council and other local authorities in not having to spend millions of our pounds in printing public notices in newspapers that have seen their readership decimated in the past 20 years…

“We have lobbied for 15 years for this out-of-date legislation to be scrapped so that serious media organisations, like Mywelshpool, can be considered as a better value-for-money alternative to publicising notices.”

Rob Taylor, who runs independent hyperlocal Wrexham.com, made a similar argument to the Senedd Local Government and Housing Committee when he appeared alongside Newsquest’s Thompson in January.

Referring to Thompson’s point about how many Newsquest papers would be loss-making without the notices, Taylor said: “An old law has become a subsidy. It may not be a direct subsidy, but it’s an indirect subsidy, and it’s not providing value for taxpayers anymore.”

It is not the first time that digital-only publishers in the UK, who are ineligible to publish statutory notices, have criticised the current public notices regime. Daniel Ionescu, editor of The Lincolnite, told Hold the Front Page in 2017 that “legislation should be amended to reflect the modern landscape in which councils would be allowed to put them in digital publications as well or their own website should they wish to.

“It’s millions of pounds that is basically a government subsidy to papers across the country.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
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  • Head of Department/Function
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Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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