CONCERNS have been raised about plans to remove a legal requirement for councils to publish public notices in local newspapers across Wales.

The changes were proposed earlier this week as the Welsh Government published its Local Government Finance bill.

Clause 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.

Nick Powell, chairman of the Welsh executive council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), argued that the requirement should instead be widened to include digital news publications.

He said: "The NUJ views with concern any proposal that would result in loss of revenue to news outlets and which could lead to further job cuts in an industry that is already struggling.

“For many years, the publication of paid-for public notices has been of benefit to local newspapers.

"The union has argued the case for diversifying the obligation so that new digitally focused publications can also benefit from such revenue.

"The Welsh Government should consult all stakeholders to consider fully the implications of this proposal."

Newsquest regional editor for Wales Gavin Thompson has also spoken out about the plan.

He said: "This proposed change is of great concern to local newspaper publishers, such as us, who provide an essential service of public interest journalism to communities across Wales.

"Wales has a higher level of digital exclusion than the wider UK, with seven per cent of people without the internet. Independent research shows that local newspapers are an essential platform for ensuring that the public, particularly the elderly and disenfranchised, have access to critical information that may have a profound impact upon their lives. 

"Removing the need to publish council tax changes in local newspapers is the start of a slippery slope that could have serious and lasting consequences for provision of local news across Wales."

Peredur Owen Griffiths, Plaid Cymru’s shadow finance minister, said he was concerned the plan "could impact (local newspapers') ability to report on council matters and shine a light on matters that need publicising and scrutinising".

“There is a democratic deficit in Wales that needs addressing, not undermining," he said.

“Furthermore, the proposed changes could have a disproportionate impact on older people who may not be computer literate and therefore not reachable through electronic means."

Sam Rowlands, the Conservatives’ shadow minister, also called for the measure to be ditched.

He said “Many people – particularly the elderly – rely on local newspapers for important information about their area, including crucial updates on council tax."

During a statement on Tuesday November 21, finance minister Rebecca Evans stressed that councils will be required to put alternative arrangements in place, such as notices in libraries, to ensure information is accessible to those who are digitally excluded.

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

“These provisions were made in 1992 when the primary method of communicating with citizens was through notices in newspapers,” it said.

“This is now considered to be an outdated system left behind by technological advances.”

The bill’s impact assessment makes no mention of the potential effect on the news industry.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said the measure would "reflect more modern ways of communicating".