Westminster backs calls for local authority advertising in Scottish press

THE UK government is urging local authorities to place more job adverts in Scottish newspapers – partly to ensure the financial viability of the newspaper industry in Scotland and partly to ensure widespread access to the vacancies on offer.

It follows a Scottish Affairs Committee investigation which concluded in July. Both the committee and Westminster are concerned about jobs adverts – and the revenue derived – migrating to online, including a dedicated jobs website operated by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Says the government, in a formal response to the committee’s own, similar recommendations: “Whilst it is understandable that local authorities will want to reduce costs in the current economic climate [by placing adverts online], there are concerns that advertising jobs on public sector portals only was likely to limit the field of applicants to those already in the public sector rather than the wider audience of traditional print media.”

It continues: “We are concerned at suggestions of a move to publish public notices on public sector portals whilst broadband take-up remains relatively low in some areas of Scotland. We would ask the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Executive to produce evidence that substantial parts of the population would not be excluded before removing public notices entirely from print media.

According to broadcasting regulators, Ofcom, the proportion of households in Scotland with a broadband connection increased from 53 per cent early last year to 60 per cent early this year – compared with 68 per cent across the UK as a whole.

The Scottish Affairs Committee took evidence from a number of senior individuals within the Scottish newspaper industry, including Mark Hollinshead, managing director of Trinity Mirror’s national titles division; John McLellan, editor-in-chief of The Scotsman group of newspapers; and Paul Holleran, Scottish Organiser of the National Union of Journalists.

On the specific issue of staff welfare within the Scottish newspaper industry, the government response says:”We are concerned at the reported levels of stress in the current press industry and we welcome the [Scotsman publishers] Johnston Press’s commitment to act upon the results of [a] health and safety audit made by the National Union of Journalists. We would urge the National Union of Journalists to share the results of the audit with the management of all Scottish newspaper groups as soon as possible to enable those groups to respond with an action plan to tackle the problems highlighted by the audit.”

Later, it continued: “We note the concerns that have been raised that the restructuring of the industry may have put at risk the Scottish press industry’s ability to deliver the high level of quality of journalism that the public has grown to expect and that is necessary to properly scrutinise local and regional affairs.”

And it finished, by saying: “We conclude that the Scottish newspaper industry is an integral part of Scottish culture which is highly valued both by its readers and by the institutions that it scrutinises. Under pressure from the current economic climate, diminishing advertising revenues and the explosion of alternative news and information sources in electronic format, the industry has been forced to dramatically restructure itself, often at great cost to its dedicated and knowledgeable staff.

“It is vital that both the Scottish Executive and the UK Government ensure that the Scottish newspaper industry is not made unviable through overbearing competition from public sector advertising, and that the industry is able to adapt itself to create sustainable business models, through consolidation and mergers subject to appropriate safeguards, whilst maintaining high-quality, varied and independent journalism that reflects the Scottish identity.”