The Scottish government have decided against going ahead with plans to place local authority public notices on the internet. The proposals were expected to have saved Scotland’s hard pressed councils upwards of £6 million a year but lacked parliamentary support.
The plans were also fiercely opposed by the Scottish newspaper industry who had claimed the potential loss of advertising revenues would have a devastating effect on many titles. Opponents also claimed that a lack of broadband internet connection could leave many people unable to access the notices.
Finance Secretary John Swinney said:
“The UK government is imposing the first cut in Scotland’s budget since devolution next year and further reductions in spending are inevitable in years to come. Facing that increasingly challenging financial environment, Scotland’s councils identified a need to cut spending on public notices, which currently cost around £6m a year.
“The purpose of this legislation, which government began work on in 2006, was to give councils the option of using a more effective way of improving communication with the public and deliver increased value for money.
“As a minority government it is incumbent on us to build consensus and in this case that has not been possible. Given the strength of views expressed, we have decided not to proceed with the legislation.”
The decision mirrors a similar one taken 3 months ago by the UK Labour government who had been considering placing planning applications online in England. Labour had commissioned the Killian Pretty Review to look at ways of improving the English planning application system.
The resultant report, published in November 2008, recommended that “local authorities should be given greater autonomy and flexibility to determine the best approaches to use in order to notify the public about planning applications, thus allowing them to decide whether to use local newspapers.”
The report had been formally welcomed by the Labour government who agreed to consult on placing such ads on the internet as opposed to local newspapers. The consultation took place in the Summer of 2009 and saw the newspaper industry voice fierce opposition.
Labour’s Holyrood leader Iain Gray said of the SNP decision: “This decision is a victory for democracy and a humiliating climbdown for the SNP. John Swinney’s proposals to allow local councils to put public notices online instead of in newspapers were undemocratic and I am glad that they have now been dropped.”