A review of the effectiveness of Scottish local authority job adverts on the internet has been called for by the managing director of The Scotsman newspaper, which – like most newspapers in Scotland – has seen recruitment advertising drift from the press to the web.
Michael Johnston called for an independent review of the Scottish local authority jobs portal, www.myjobscotland.gov.uk, amid fears that some newspaper titles may find it financially unviable to continue should the Scottish Government succeed in pushing through parliament a proposal that local authorities be given the discretion of posting public information notices on the web rather than in newspapers – saving millions of pounds per year.
He was speaking mainly in his capacity as chair of the Scottish Newspaper Society at a summit on the future of newspapers hosted on Friday by Government enterprise minister, Jim Mather – continuing a similar summit he ran last year, involving key 'players' in the Scottish newspaper industry.
Johnston told allmediascotland.com: “The industry [SNS] asks for the commissioning of an independent evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of the CoSLA [Convention of Scottish Local Authorities] electronic portal for public sector recruitment advertising. We don't believe a lot of the things that CoSLA say, currently; we believe they're being disingenuous about the success of the portal, partly because of how the portal is structured and secondly because – while it is certainly true it is generating a lot of applications – the primary purpose of the portal was to raise local authorities as a brand, for potential employees and to attract new blood from outside, and all they are doing is churning their own employees and simply causing wage inflation.”
The summit was intended by, among others, Tim Blott, managing director of The Herald & Times Group; Paul Holleran, Scottish Organiser, the National Union of Journalists; Mark Hollinshead, managing director of Trinity Mirror nationals division; John McLellan, The Scotsman's editor-in-chief, plus various academics, politicians and journalists.
Johnston also formally asked the Scottish Government to abandon its public information notices proposal.
“I've said repeatedly that we are not, in any way, opposed to digital publishing of public information notices – that we welcome as much and as wide dissemination of public notices as possible – but what we are saying is that, particularly looking at [relatively low] broadband penetration in Scotland [especially some parts] and the effectiveness and reach of newspapers, now is not the time to disenfranchise a huge proportion of the Scottish population. This is anti-democratic and not what we'd expect to see in a devolved, mature Scotland.”
And in response to UK government plans to fund – initially, as a pilot – the production of TV news on Channel 3, to relieve some of the financial pressures on STV, Johnston called for steps to be taken to ensure that STV does not encroach into newspaper markets, thanks to public subsidy.
Said Johnston: “I am all for competition [STV competing for the same ad markets that newspapers are chasing], I am all for the cut and thrust of the market, but I am totally opposed to public subsidy being used to distort the market such that companies like my own – and in the Scottish newspaper industry, which has invested heavily in digital – finds itself at a disadvantage because there is an entrant in the marketplace using public money where we have to use our own, internal investments.”