Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 17:20 UK

MPs warn of risk to local papers

Printing press
MPs say the withdrawl of council advertising was harming some papers

Scottish councils should stop damaging their local papers by the withdrawal of advertising, according to MPs.

The commons select committee on Scottish affairs said there was a risk that the newspaper industry could cease to be commercially viable.

It found that councils had moved their job advertising and public notices, such as road closures, online.

It said this could not only harm local papers but leave many people without access to public information.

In evidence to the committee, it was estimated that the shift of jobs advertising was expected to save £5m initially, while taking away statutory public notices could remove £10m of income from newspapers.

MPs on the committee held an inquiry into the crisis in Scottish newspapers, which heard evidence that those most dependent on newspapers were people in small towns.

The evidence my committee heard during this inquiry has raised significant questions and we urge the Scottish and UK governments to do everything in their power to safeguard the future of the industry
Mohammad Sarwar
Committee chairman

They said that those most likely to suffer from the lack of access to information were the elderly and people not yet connected to the internet.

They cited evidence showing broadband reached just over half of Scottish homes, while in Glasgow it was as low as 32%.

The select committee concluded that although it was understandable that councils wanted to cut costs, their removal of newspaper advertising could reduce the field of applicants for jobs.

The MPs also said changes within the industry put at risk the ability of newspapers to deliver the high quality of journalism that the public had grown to expect, and which was necessary to properly scrutinise local and regional affairs.

They suggested a rethink of competition regulations which make it difficult for some newspaper groups to merge, adding that safeguards should still be in place.

'Great cost'

The MPs, chaired by Mohammad Sarwar, Labour MP for Glasgow Central, raised concern about the levels of stress reported in the press industry and called for managers to put in place action plans to tackle the problem.

They reported a claim made to them by Martin Boyle, a lecturer at Cardonald College, Glasgow, that journalists do not have enough time to do more research for articles and too often re-write press releases.

The inquiry noted the fall in circulation of Scottish newspapers as well as a steep fall in advertising revenue.

With the internet attracting away readers, it said the industry had been forced to restructure itself dramatically. The report said this was "often at great cost to its dedicated and knowledgeable staff".

It reported the National Union of Journalists' claim that 2,000 jobs throughout Britain had been lost in recent months across print and broadcasting.

It said newsprint costs had risen by 20% in the year to last spring.

Online recruitment

Mr Sarwar said: "Scottish print media has a long and distinguished history of which Scottish people are rightly proud.

"High quality reporting which reflects Scottish culture and the interests and concerns of local communities is vital.

"But the evidence my committee heard during this inquiry has raised significant questions and we urge the Scottish and UK governments to do everything in their power to safeguard the future of the industry."

A statement from the local authority body, Cosla, said local government had to find ways of making savings but continue to deliver good services.

A spokesman said: "Newspapers across the UK are suffering from falling readerships and this means that they are no longer necessarily the best way for councils to reach residents.

"Our research tells us that applicants are choosing online recruitment sites as their preferred way of looking for jobs in local government."

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