A question mark hangs over a number of Government initiatives seen as pivotal to supporting a healthy, vibrant local news media sector, with the Labour Party silent on whether or not it would continue them if it wins the general election in May.
The Party has not responded to repeated requests from the News Media Association to confirm whether or not it would match the pledge made by Chancellor George Osborne in last month’s Budget to consult on business rate relief for local newspapers, which was highlighted this week by the Culture Secretary as an example of important work for the next Parliament.
Following the budget announcement, the NMA contacted the office of the Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman (pictured above) on three separate occasions to ask if they backed the proposal, to which they did not respond.
The NMA then contacted two advisers of Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn, which again received no response.
These efforts followed an attempt in February to engage Harriet Harman’s office on the issues that are looming large for the industry ahead of the election. Again, emails to advisers were not returned.
The other policies that the NMA has requested clarification on – so far without response – include whether Labour would maintain the zero rate of VAT on newspapers, local and national, and whether it would continue the current Government’s policy of taking action to against local authority free-sheets that compete unfairly with independent local newspapers.
The NMA has also inquired after the likely fate under a Labour government of the current Communities Department pilot scheme for new models of publicising statutory notices. The scheme sees local newspapers involved in developing new formats for bringing official information to the attention of the public, which has reassured the industry that it is not set to lose the more than £20 million in revenues a year it gets from these notices.
Again, Labour has not taken the opportunity to set out whether or not it would continue this approach.