Senedd votes against legal requirement for council tax notices to be published in local newspapers

A Senedd committee voted against calls to maintain a legal requirement for council tax notices to be published in local newspapers.

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Peter Fox tabled an amendment to the local government finance bill to ensure the public notices continue to be printed in newspapers.

But a vote in the local government committee was tied 3-3, with John Griffiths, the chair, required by Senedd rules to use his casting vote against the amendment.

Mr Fox, the Conservative MS for Monmouth, said online-only notices are not always accessible to everyone and some people rely on newspapers.

He argued keeping the requirement would help increase accountability and transparency.

A dozen Senedd members have so far signed a cross-party statement, tabled by Labour MS Mike Hedges, in support of keeping council public notices in local newspapers.

‘Retrograde step’

Mr Fox, who led Monmouthshire council for a decade, said: “We shouldn’t be stopping people having the right to access information in the way they need it.”

He told the committee: “It’s almost abdicating responsibility as a government to make sure the people of Wales, all people of Wales, get access to information….

“I think it’s a retrograde step that wasn’t needed. I think the government should have more responsibility to the wider population of Wales.”

James Evans, a fellow Tory MS, who represents Brecon and Radnorshire, warned notices going online-only risks undermining the viability of some local newspapers.

“Not everybody gets their news online – I think we should respect that,” he said, adding that some people put their trust in the written press due to misinformation spread online.

‘Thin on the ground’

Plaid Cymru’s Luke Fletcher sympathised with the Welsh Government’s intention but backed the Tory amendment due to the potential impact on the newspaper industry.

Mr Fletcher said: “A number of news outlets have contacted us as members to say that quite simply they wouldn’t have been profitable if it wasn’t for these advertising notices.

“As the news landscape in Wales is already pretty thin on the ground, I think that could pose a problem in the future if we see some of these news outlets closed as a result of this.”

Carolyn Thomas, the Labour MS for North Wales, raised concerns about the accessibility of printed public notices. “Even with my glasses on, I couldn’t read them,” she said.

She supported the Welsh Government’s position that councils should have the choice, with her Labour colleague Joyce Watson also voting against the amendment on June 13.

‘Left behind’

Rebecca Evans, who is in charge of the bill, said the requirement was put in place in 1992 when communicating with citizens was commonly carried out through newspaper notices.

“But now, 30 years on, this is widely considered to be an inflexible approach to providing council tax information,” she said. “It’s been left behind by technological advances.”

Wales’ finance secretary emphasised that all taxpayers receive information about council tax as part of their annual bill, whether they choose to receive that electronically or in hard copy.

Stressing the importance of value for money, Ms Evans added: “Should local authorities wish to continue to use local papers, the bill does not prevent them from doing so at all.”

She sought to assure members that the change has not been designed with any broader intention to pave the way for removing other types of public notices.

The bill now moves to stage three of the legislative process, with the Conservatives expected to re-introduce the amendment for a vote of the whole Senedd.

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