Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South 4:27 pm, 8th October 2020

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Shaun Bailey. As always, he made some incredibly powerful points. Like him, I would like to start by welcoming the record £1.57 billion funding promised by the Secretary of State to the cultural and arts sector, which is now being delivered. I spoke earlier in the week in the Westminster Hall debate on the importance of providing support to the supply chain companies and the technicians and freelancers who work in the creative sectors, and I know this is something that Ministers recognise.

As the chair of the all-party parliamentary media group, I want to highlight a sector that is in need of urgent help—namely, local media, comprising local newspapers, local commercial radio and local magazines, particularly those that are small and independently owned. Examples are the Warrington Worldwide and Village Life magazines in my constituency. These are publications to which we turn to keep us updated. The owner and editor, Gary Skentelbery, has invested and built a great business, and he goes above and beyond to provide up-to-the-minute news and information. However, because he is not part of a large media group, he does not get the agency ad funding that comes from the Central Office of Information—the Government ad revenue—although it does send him press releases to run in his news pages. That is simply not right.

I echo the comments made by Opposition Members earlier that when we come to look at how we support local media, we should approach it with a bottom-up mentality. The ad revenues of local radio such as the Dee Radio stations in Cheshire, and newspapers such as the South Warrington News are forecast to fall by more than 30% this year, and I have to say I think that is a bit optimistic, because I suspect that, in the early part of the lockdown, many saw a fall in revenues in excess of 80%. It is businesses that are normally advertising at this time of year—the entertainment, events and hospitality sectors—that are under further restrictions and simply cannot spend at the moment. We are likely to see a forecast £4 billion reduction in ad spend over the next year, which is a significant cut in the amount of money that will be available to allow commercial media to produce content.

Local content is vital for local media and local reporting. Indeed, we have entered local lockdown in Warrington, and we rely on local media channels to feed the community with news and specific information about the restrictions. Unfortunately, however, journalists are being laid off. I appreciate the work undertaken by the Minister for Media and Data, my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale. His support for covering commercial radio broadcasters’ transmission costs has been incredibly helpful but, sadly, many of the smallest ones missed out, so will he look again and see what help can give to independent media in our local communities?