CONCERNS over changes to rules on public notices that could cause lasting damage to local newspapers have been raised in the Senedd.

South Wales East MS Natasha Asghar called for the plans - part of the planned overhaul of council tax - to be scrapped.

“Public notices provide vital revenue for newspapers, which, in turn, enables them to deliver higher quality coverage of local and national stories," she said.

“With Wales having high levels of digital exclusion, newspapers do, inevitably, play a pivotal role in keeping residents informed.”

Section 20 of the bill proposes removing the requirement to publish information on council tax changes in newspapers. Instead, councils would only be required to publish a notice on their own websites. The issue prompted concerns when the Local Government Finance Bill was first brought before the Senedd last month.

Speaking at questions to the finance minister on Wednesday, December 6, Ms Asghar highlighted that media outlets are very worried about the proposed changes, as the publication of these public notices is a regularly high source of revenue that local newspapers across Wales will lose if the bill is put through as is.

She quoted Newsquest regional editor for Wales Gavin Thompson, who had told her: “Removing the need to publish council tax changes in local newspapers is a start of a slippery slope that could have serious and lasting consequences for the provision of local news across Wales.

“Now is...not the time to pile further problems on our industry.”

She went on:  "So, minister, will we be ditching this part of the Bill and instead reinstate your Government's support for local news, going forward?"

The finance minister replied that the proposed changes are “just being realistic” with how people tend to engage with the news in this day and age.

She said that councils would still be expected to place the notices in public places for people who don’t have access to or cannot use a computer, such as a library or the council offices, or “within their own newsletters”.

The minister argued that, as a result of this requirement, there would still be “safeguards” for those who consider themselves “digitally excluded” to be kept up to date with the public notices.

It was noted by the minister that the bill is being prepared to begin the engagement and scrutiny process through the Senedd, and she expects the issues concerning media outlets to be “scrutinised in great detail” by the committee.

In a previous statement on Tuesday, November 21, the minister called the current system “outdated” and said it has been “left behind by technological advances”.

Afterwards, Mr Thompson said: "The minister took a very narrow view and completely ignored the wider benefits from the fact that public notices helps keep some local newspapers viable. Without them, communities would suffer a reduction in the local journalism that keeps them informed."

An explanation published alongside the bill estimates that councils currently spend about £1,500 for each publication, equating to an annual spend of at least £33,000 across Wales.