Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Jayne Bryant
Joel James
John Griffiths Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mabon ap Gwynfor Yn dirprwyo ar ran Luke Fletcher
Substitute for Luke Fletcher
Sam Rowlands

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Gavin Thompson Golygydd Rhanbarthol, Newsquest Cymru
Regional Editor, Newsquest Wales
Rachel Bowen Cyfarwyddwr Polisi, Swyddfa Comisiynydd Pobl Hŷn Cymru
Director of Policy, Older People's Commissioner for Wales
Rob Taylor Wrexham.com
Steffan Rhys Cyfarwyddwr Cynulleidfaoedd a Chynnwys Cymru, Reach plc
Audience and Content Director for Wales, Reach plc

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Era Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Ben Harris Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Osian Bowyer Ymchwilydd
Rachael Davies Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:31.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau a dirprwyon
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. Our first item today, item 1, is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We've received an apology from Luke Fletcher MS, and Mabon ap Gwynfor is attending as a substitute for Luke Fletcher. The meeting is being held in hybrid format, but aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that way, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest from members of the committee, please? No.

2. Bil Cyllid Llywodraeth Leol (Cymru): Sesiwn dystiolaeth 6
2. Local Government Finance (Wales) Bill: Evidence session 6

We'll move on, then, to item 2, our sixth evidence session on the Local Government Finance (Wales) Bill. I'm very pleased to welcome, joining us here in person, Rachel Bowen, director of policy for the Older People's Commissioner for Wales—welcome, Rachel—and Gavin Thompson, regional editor for Newsquest Wales. Welcome, Gavin. And joining us online, Steffan Rhys, audience and content director for Wales for Reach plc, and Rob Taylor of Wrexham.com. Welcome to you both.

Okay, then. Let me begin with some initial questions. Firstly, then, on the publication of notices, as proposed by the Bill, could our witnesses outline for committee their views on the provision removing the requirement on local authorities to publish council tax notices in local newspapers? Your views on that provision and its likely effects. Who would like to begin?

I'm happy to go first.

So, we see that, as everything moves towards increasing online provision, an increasing number of older people across Wales are becoming digitally excluded. The issue of digital exclusion is raised with the commissioner by older people every time the commissioner's out and about. It's something that comes up with older people. It comes up when we hold engagement events; people contact our advice and assistance line. And we see the suggestion of removing the requirement to publish in newspapers as yet more evidence of this creep towards digitalisation and the increasing exclusion of older people. The right to be able to access information and services is enshrined in a variety of human rights legislation, and it's really important that it's retained. We know that an increasing number of older people—. Older people rely on traditional sources, such as printed newspapers, for news, for information. Over-75s, people over 75—they are readers of printed newspapers, seeing printed newspapers as trusted sources of information. And over 100,000 people over 75 in Wales don't use the internet. So, if information moves online, then how are these people able to access really important information?


The provisions in the Bill, Rachel, would place a new duty, then, on local authorities to publish a notice of council tax determination electronically but also to make alternative arrangements for those members of the public who wouldn't be likely to access a notice in that way. You don't think that's sufficient, then, as an alternative to what's currently the case?

We think the wording of the alternative is rather grey and ambiguous. So, what does 'suitable alternative arrangements' actually mean in practice? Who's to decide what's suitable and what isn't? There's just no clarity about what that means. For instance, putting a notice in a library—well, if you don't go to your local library and you're not seeking things out there, or if you can't access your local library, then that doesn't seem like a suitable alternative arrangement. There just seems a lack of clarity over what that is, whereas retaining the requirement to publish in a newspaper—that's something very definite and clear.

Thank you, John. Just to set out, Newsquest is, for anyone who doesn't know, a leading publisher of local news in Wales. We publish titles including the South Wales Argus, The Leader, the Rhyl Journal, Barry and District News—titles right across Wales. We employ around 182 people in Wales at four sites—that's at our newspaper offices in Mold, in Haverfordwest, in Newport, where we have significant back-office functions, and also we have a printing plant at Deeside that prints our north Wales titles. 

Now, our view is that section 20 of this Bill would have catastrophic, unintended consequences for the local newspaper sector in Wales. I appreciate that this Bill is specifically related to council tax, but the removal of that public notice provision would have an impact and it also sets a direction of travel for other areas of public notices. And to make the committee aware of the importance of that revenue to local newspapers across Newsquest, six out of our 10 local newspapers would have been loss making last year without public notice revenue. We as a business would not be able to continue to print loss-making titles. So, that's a serious, wider democratic deficit than purely the digital inclusion of older people, although that is a really, really important point. And the viability of digital sites would also be in doubt or affected by the closure of any print titles—smaller sites in particular, where they perhaps don't have the same scale of audience to build subscriptions and advertising models. But it would impact all our newsrooms and would mean fewer journalists and fewer titles in Wales. 

It would also mean that Wales has a worse climate for local news than England, despite the fact that I would argue there's a greater need here. The lack of depth and variety in our national media in Wales means that, actually, our local media is even more important, because for many people across communities in Wales, their local newspaper will not just be the only place where they read about their local Senedd Members but probably about the Senedd at all. 

And as an example of a mid-sized weekly newspaper, the Western Telegraph is still read by around 20,000 people in print. Typically those people will not be active digital users as well. Some of them won't even use the internet at all. And it's not right to exclude that still significant part of the population from vital, local information by removing the requirement for public notices to appear in a printed newspaper. I don't doubt that there will come a day when print isn't the right answer for public notices, but I think we are some way off that yet. And the idea that digital only is a sensible democratic solution is just not where we are right now. There was a figure quoted recently at a UK level by the former digital skills Minister, Paul Scully, who cited 20 per cent of adults across the UK lacking very basic digital skills and asking the question, 'How do we address that? How do we tackle that?' Well, from our point of view, we tackle serving that by putting our public notices both in print and online, ensuring that we're serving communities with the best of both options.

I don't think section 20 is central to this Bill, and we would very much ask that it be removed and that the Senedd and the Welsh Government reaffirm a commitment to local news. Our business model faces major challenges from things like Facebook moving away from news, from the impact of artificial intelligence on search traffic, which will have a significant impact on us, and the removal of advertising cookies on Google and more. So, what we need is the Welsh Government and the Senedd to support local Welsh journalism and not to make it harder for us to produce.


Thanks, Gavin. We heard from the Welsh Local Government Association that the annual spend with regard to these notices is around £33,000 across Wales by local authorities, so, obviously, in the greater realm of things, it's not a huge amount of money. But I think you used the phrase, Gavin, 'direction of travel' and that's a major concern for you, then, in terms of this particular legislation and this particular provision.

Yes. The removal of any public notice revenue will have an impact, and some titles will be closer to that viability issue than others, but if we are saying that there is not a need for local councils to publish this information in printed newspapers when they change council tax, well, then the next step is planning notices, licensing and all the other different things that would currently appear in local newspapers. So, we very much think that this is the thin end of the wedge and we think it's important that the Senedd and the Welsh Government set a clear statement or direction that, 'We want to do all we can to support local news.' I am part of a working group that was set up to look at public interest journalism in Wales—that's set up through Creative Wales. The group published a report last year—we're still waiting for the formal response to that from the relevant Deputy Minister—and public notices was an important part of that discussion and it would seem wrong to me for the Government to legislate on a matter that directly impacts and removes public notices when we haven't even had the response to that report yet.

Okay, Gavin. Steffan or Rob, would you like to—? Yes, Rob.

Good morning, everybody. Where to start on some of this? I'll come back to the commissioner's response in a minute, but the Chair mentioned, I think, £33,000 across Wales in terms of statutory notices, so it's not huge amounts of money. We're doing a piece at the moment just on traffic orders around the 20 mph zones and where they've appeared in every single local authority area, and for Carmarthenshire, £151,000, the council have told us; Anglesey, £20,000; Powys, £60,000—it goes on and on. These are huge amounts of money and that's just for the 20 mph zones. I was looking at some of the circulations—I'm sure I'll get corrected by Newsquest in a minute—and I think he mentioned a figure of 20,000 readers for the Western Telegraph in print, but the Audit Bureau of Circulations shows that that's 5,000, so it would be good to get some hard figures here to get an idea of what we're talking about in terms of spend, but also in terms of the actual reach of these publications.

Just to touch on the fact that some of these submissions have said that this is not a subsidy, yet, at the same time, came out with the incredible, and frankly grim, stat that six out of 10 publications would be loss making—this is a subsidy and there are no two ways about it, basically. I think it's worth noting that the Wales public interest working group that was referenced—we don't get a lot of feedback in terms of what's been discussed or the outputs from that working group, but we have seen the minutes. These are the minutes that have been signed off by members, and in May 2022, when this was raised, the head of strategic communications from Welsh Government was there and a representative from Golley Slater, and the minutes mentioned that, for this debate, there was a brief introduction and an overview was given and the discussions were opened explaining how public and legal notices within publications are strong pillars for propping up the industry. Now, that went on, and the summary of the debate at the end of the minutes says that there was Welsh Government concern about destabilising the current model. So, it comes back to the point that the wording of the Bill, I think Reach said, would not support journalism in Wales, but is that the point of the Bill? Is that the point of the piece of line that we're talking about here that's actually the wording, or is it about communicating with the public? That, to me, is the crux of our argument, that it's not about a state subsidy, this is about communication, and, back in the day, yes, circulations were huge and points of reference for many, many people, but the landscape has changed, and it's a bad law, it's an out-of-date law.

I'd like to go back to the older people's commissioner's comments, because I think the data there is really interesting and highlights the problem, not just the problem of removing this, but the problem that exists today with it in place. The digital exclusion stats are very concerning, are a genuine problem, and it does need to be sorted and is something wider than this committee, much like the future of journalism in Wales, but I think it's outside this. I've looked at the section 12 guidance that's referenced in the submission. It's a very important document, it's something where councils have been, essentially, instructed, and health boards, on how to communicate with older people. There is zero mention of newspapers in it.

There's also some guidance in terms of how this works in practicalities. You're talking telephone outreach, newsletters, updates, information booklets, that kind of thing—zero mention of newspapers. There is, however, a good example from up the road in Flintshire, which referenced the Flintshire 50+ Action Group that distributes 2,500 paper copies of its quarterly newsletter through GP practices, community hospitals, libraries, leisure centres and community groups. Now, obviously, that's a quarterly print product, so it's not a newspaper, it's not a weekly, it's not a daily et cetera. But it is a core, targeted information point, and it's held out as an exemplar, and sounds really good.

To give some bits of data around this, Flintshire has got a population of 155,000 people at the moment, and using the ABC certificate at the moment, it shows that there are 3,251 copies of The Leader, so that is a Wrexham and a Flintshire edition. Helpfully, the certificate breaks that down to say which one's which. So, 65 per cent of that is Wrexham, and 35 per cent of that is Flintshire. So, you're talking about a Flintshire circulation of 1,140. So, if you go on StatsWales, you can find out how many people are aged 75 to 84, or over 85—so, the older people referenced by the commissioner. You're talking about 16,000 people currently in Flintshire who fit that demographic, and you're talking 1,140 copies of The Leader currently. Let's take a third, who the commission says are the digitally excluded group, for example, using straight lines. You're talking 6,000 people. You've got just over 1,000 copies of The Leader. Currently, they're not communicating. That's not working right now, and this is assuming that all the people who purchased that copy are these excluded people. Also, you're making it a requirement for older people to go out daily to purchase a newspaper and read it front to back to make sure they are informed about what is going on legally in terms of Wales.

I'd also point to the 'Access Denied' report yesterday, which came out from the older people's commissioner yesterday, that notes, due to the cost-of-living crisis, many older people are looking at their spending habits and considering ways to save money. So, are we really saying that the future of Welsh law is to dictate to people that they must go out and purchase these newspapers? This is just the excluded group, so that's the 6,000 people. Who's communicating to the 16,000 older people in Flintshire at the moment? Who's speaking to the wider population of Flintshire at the moment? Who's engaging with younger people who don't buy print? It's a fallacy, and I thank the commissioner for putting this in, because, otherwise, I wouldn't have really gone through the stats. I think it's a cracking example to show that this is an archaic, out-of-date law. I could go on. I know the committee's got limited time on this, so I'm sure we'll come back in later.


Hi, morning, everyone. Bore da. So, I completely agree with the points made by Rachel and Gavin; they were made very clearly. I don't want to repeat too much of it, but I will just give you some information from my point of view. It's really important that this is looked at from both the reader perspective and access to information, and from a publisher perspective. Tens of thousands of people in Wales read a newspaper daily title published by Reach—so that's the Western Mail, the Echo and others. Now, if the circulation is around 30,000 combined of those, the readership will be far higher, because one newspaper is not read by one person; it may well be read by more than one person. There are thousands more that read our weekly titles. There are some in north Wales, there are lots across the south Wales Valleys, and you have the likes of the Llanelli Star and the Carmarthen Journal in Carmarthenshire.

Now, it's fairly black and white to me that removing public notices from those print titles removes that information and the ability of those people to find that information out. I think that's fairly clear. Now, as well as the public notices in those titles, those titles are also full of valuable journalism, which is well researched, it's difficult, it's investigative, and that is produced by a large, well-resourced and experienced WalesOnline or Media Wales newsroom, which comprehensively covers both Wales-wide and local issues.

Revenue from those print titles is critical to supporting those newsrooms, and so that brings me on to the publisher perspective. As Gavin mentioned, the commercial media sector is facing a lot of challenges that directly impact its revenue. That includes the dominance of the likes of Google and Facebook in the advertising market, it includes falling advertising yields, it includes Facebook, particularly, withdrawing audience from those publishers, and it includes our rising costs because of inflation, and statutory notices are another important revenue stream. The withdrawal of another revenue stream would make a challenging situation even more challenging, and, obviously, there are potential impacts to that.

So, I think, to summarise all of that, if you remove public notices, or the requirement to put public notices in print titles, you are removing that information from a certain part of the public; there are really no two ways about that. You're also removing revenue from publishers. That means publishers are able to do less journalism, and that means the public is even less informed, so it's almost a circular effect, really.

Just to touch on some of the points that some of the speakers made before me, I completely agree with what Rachel said about alternative arrangements being very vague. It is uncertain, and you'd also probably have to ask questions around what the cost of things like placing notices in libraries, or sending letters to people, if they're not seeing them in newspapers, would be.

The Chair mentioned the £33,000 figure for the amount that's spent on council tax notices in particular. You're right that that is a fairly small amount of money, but it's still important; it's another source of revenue. And then you also mentioned the direction of travel, which Gavin raised as well. Once you bring in—. Even though the £33,000 might not seem like a large sum, once you bring in all public notices, that is a very large sum, and it's a critical sum to the revenue of publishers like Reach and Newsquest and others, and if we were to see that direction of travel then you'd see a potentially very significant impact on the ability of newsrooms to keep going and to keep covering Wales in the way that we do.

And then Rob mentioned subsidy, and I think I'd just push back on subsidy, because subsidy suggests—. Well, it almost suggests money for nothing, which this isn't; this is almost a commercial arrangement, where money is spent to get information out to the public. That is a sensible and important arrangement. He also referenced the number of people who read print titles, and so how many people are seeing those notices in print, but we also put all of those notices online, and we're doing a significant amount of work at the moment through our public notice portal to try and get those notices seen more online.

Yes, I think those are the points I wanted to make for now, unless anyone has any more questions.


No. Thank you, Steffan. In your initial comments, all four of you, you've covered quite a lot of ground, and much of that ground are matters that we'll be coming onto in a little bit more depth. But, Rob, I saw your hand raised; did you want to just come back briefly at this point?

Yes. I'd just like to touch on—. I suppose one question I'm sure the committee will be asking is, as the reach of these circulations declines, are these public notices getting cheaper, because the data I've had is that's increasing. But the public notice portal was mentioned there and, almost a decade ago, I think it was Eric Pickles who did a statutory notice for the twenty-first century pilot, where a six-month pilot was made, and I think £1 million by UK Government was spent to try and solve this problem a decade ago. So, a lot of money has been chucked at this to try and solve it. Nothing came out of that. Now we're at the public notice portal, and I know, essentially, the big tech guys—Google, Facebook—have been mentioned as being unhelpful to journalism, shall we say, this morning, but I think that was developed by £1 million from the Google news initiative. So, lots of money has been spent here to try and solve this problem and to try and move those things digitally and online, but it appears that there is a reluctance here, because, essentially, this is a cash cow.

But, again, coming back to it, we're talking about the crux here in that an old law has become a subsidy. It may not be a direct subsidy, but it's an indirect subsidy, and it's not providing value for taxpayers anymore. And I think this is the thing: are we making laws now for—? I've got a quote here actually from the chief exec of Reach, which probably sums it up. And when I was looking at this, the National Union of Journalists, back in March 2022, noted that he had a £4 million pay package. So, I'm not sure if Reach are as cash-strapped as they're suggesting on that front. But the quote, which was in The Guardian last week, mentions that:

'The titles you are passionate about at some point get to a point where they will be of minimum use on paper but will [also] exist in other forms.'

So, are we making a law here in Wales for the olden days, or are we going to make one for the future?


Okay, Rob. Okay. Well, as I say, we will come on to many of the matters that all of you have initially mentioned in a little bit more detail, and, at this stage, we move to Mabon ap Gwynfor. Mabon.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd. Dwi'n mynd i ofyn drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Mae lot o bethau difyr iawn wedi cael eu dweud hyd yma. Meddwl ydw i, os ydy o, o ran y papurau eu hunain, mor bwysig ichi i ddarparu'r gwasanaeth yma a'ch bod yn teimlo ei fod o'n wasanaeth pwysig i'r cyhoedd a'ch bod chi'n darparu gwasanaeth sydd o fudd i bawb, ydych chi'n meddwl felly ei fod o'n help neu'n eich dal chi yn ôl eich bod chi'n rhoi'r notis, neu fod y papurau'n rhoi'r notices yma, ar y tudalennau cefn di-nod, lle does neb yn eu darllen nhw beth bynnag? Beth ydy darllenyddiaeth y notices pan fyddan nhw'n cael eu cyhoeddi? Achos dwi'n darllen papurau lleol a, hynny ydy, prin dwi'n cyrraedd tudalennau 17 neu 18 lle mae'r rhain yn cael eu rhoi rhwng y newyddion a rhwng y chwaraeon—amser mae ychydig o death notices neu rywbeth fel yna. Faint o bobl sydd go iawn yn eu darllen nhw, felly, ac ydy o'n help eich bod chi'n eu rhoi nhw mewn tudalennau di-nod?

Thank you, Chair. I'll be asking my questions in Welsh. A lot of very interesting things have been said so far. I was thinking that if, in terms of the papers themselves, it is so important for you to provide this service and you feel that it's a very important service for the public and that you provide a service that is beneficial to everyone, do you think that it helps, or is it holding you back, that the papers provide these notices on the unimportant back pages, where nobody reads them anyway? What is the readership of these notices when they're published? Because I read local papers and I almost never reach pages 17 or 18, where these are placed between the news and the sports—when there are a few death notices or something like that. How many people actually read these notices and does it help that you put them on these unimportant news pages?

If I can respond to that, I wouldn't say they're on unimportant pages. The BMDs, the death notices, are some of the most read things in the paper. Many readers will turn straight to those. The flow of a newspaper—. I think people know where to find certain things, so I think people do turn to look for this information, and we also, as an industry, have been working hard to get the notices more widely read in other ways. So, Steffan mentioned the public notice portal, that's something that we've worked on industry-wide—the News Media Association has led that and Reach has been involved in the development of that. And that's something where we now take those notices and put them online. We also write a number of news stories relating to a lot of the public notices and we try and drive people back to looking at those. So, we do aim to get as wide an audience as possible for those. But, in terms of the core audience that you're trying to reach with those—the digitally excluded and so on—I think they do know where to look for information, they do turn to the middle or the back of the paper when they pick up the paper each week or each day.

Oes gennych chi ddata i brofi hynny, felly?

Do you have any data to prove that?

I don't have—. Readership data of newspapers in terms of exactly what people are looking at is quite a difficult thing. Digitally, you can get analytics, but we don't do surveys—reading and noting surveys—asking people exactly what they do and don't read. I don't think anyone has done that.

Ond mae gennych chi public notice portal, felly, rydych chi'n gwybod faint o hits sydd arno fo, felly, rydych chi'n cael nifer o bobl yn—?

But you do have a public notice portal, so, you know how many hits are on that, so you get a number of people—?

So, that's—. Yes, I'd have to get the figures for that, because it's not specifically a Newsquest thing, it's an industry-wide thing, but I know that it is growing and I know that when we do news stories relating to some of the public notices they are sometimes some of the most read online as well. I don't have figures for that to hand. I can get you information about the public notice portal audience.

Mabon, I think Steffan would like to come in as well. Steffan.

Hi. Yes, just to completely concur there with Gavin. They may be on pages 17 or 18, as you say, but they've been established in those parts of the newspapers for decades, so people know where to access them. The fact they're not on pages 2 and 3 I don't think affects that at all. 

Just in terms of the readership of the public notice portal as well, I don't have direct readership figures for that, because it is cross-industry, as Gavin said. What we do in the WalesOnline newsroom, however, is that I have a specific journalist—more than one journalist—tasked with looking and keeping an eye on that portal and on flagging up any stories that come from it. We run rolling live coverage in Cardiff of that portal on WalesOnline as well, and then when we think that there are notices that might be of particular interest or of particular significance, we will write breakout stories on that and we will try to direct people back to that portal as well.


Mabon, I think Carolyn Thomas wanted to come in at this point as well. Carolyn. 

The advantage of working from home is that I've got a copy of the newspapers—I've had it delivered, The Leader newspaper, for the last 25 years to my home, and so I was just checking with what Mabon had said. And, at the back, on page 30, planning notices from the local authority are there, but the print is so small that I can't read it, even with my glasses on. So, I just wanted to give you that little bit of evidence, really. So, thank you.

Thanks. I'm sure the older people's commissioner will comment on the size of the print and how accessible that is to older people.

This is desperate stuff. I've got to be blunt with you on this one. This comes across as really desperate, and I'm really disappointed, to be honest, because I echo and endorse Reach and Newsquest in what they say about the threat to journalism in Wales and that the situation is pretty dire. And this is not due to local reporters, local operations or anything like that; these are trends globally in terms of how the tech giants do work. And that's all true, but that's a debate for outside this committee, and I do hope it is addressed properly and sensibly. But, if statutory notices are such a key element of revenues and such a lifeline to Welsh journalism—four sides of A4 and no examples, no case studies here of good engagement, no working with local authorities to say, 'Put a different URL on a statutory notice and you can track how many people go through it'—there's none of that. There is no evidence here. It's, 'Well, people buy it and obviously they read it front to back', which, when you've got huge circulations, the numbers game would point to that being a percentage and being true, but it's just no longer the case.

And I'm really disappointed, to be honest, because there is a genuinely serious issue about the future of journalism. This isn't the answer to it, and this feels like when newspaper groups were blaming Ebay for taking classified advertising, Rightmove for having taken the revenues for advertising for housing, et cetera, et cetera. It's another one: 'We were big, we're not anymore. There are alternatives.' I'm genuinely a bit disappointed by the responses. 

Is it possible to come back on that?

I didn't really want to get into an argument on this, but I am disappointed with Rob's attitude on this. I think it's just worth bearing in mind the context, that Wrexham.com, as a hyperlocal digital publisher, is not able to benefit from public notices at the moment. It doesn't have a printed product. And I can't help but feel that there's a bit of feeling left out here. But, it is worth noting that this Bill would not put money into hyperlocal digital news providers either; it would just take it away from the industry. The Minister's response to the News Media Association and others talks about councils putting the notices on their own websites, it talks about them putting notices in local libraries or in community centres, which would not be widely accessed. So, I'm not sure exactly where Rob's coming from on this, but I think he's bringing a bit of an axe to grind on this, and I don't think it's particularly helpful. He's obviously welcome to his view, but removing public notices would take away support from local journalism full stop, not just printed newspapers.

I think Rob wanted to come back. I don't really want to get into a continual exchange between our witnesses, but Rob very briefly, and then I think Mabon— 

Yes, I think it would be fair to come back on that one. It would be easy for us to sit here and say, 'We're strong, independent titles, and more relevant—can we get on the gravy train?' essentially. And this is why I put it in the submission. We've held this position consistently. Locally it's verifiable as well, from about 2013 onwards, and in the Senedd itself, 2017. The same point is being made. This is not about us getting money. We don't want the money for statutory notices. It's a terrible law, it's a terrible way of communicating, and I know media buyers and publishers would prefer the status quo on it. We rarely dip into politics and we rarely give our view on stuff, but this is something that is basically a bad old law. It's as simple as that, and we see it. You don't read about statutory notices in the media, because they benefit from them. Nobody else will tell you about this, and nobody else—. We've accidentally become experts in this because we're looking at spending and we're looking at public money, where it goes. Yes, it's just calling it out, basically. There's no axe to grind here. We don't want the money and we're quite happy to run statutory notices for free, if that helps.


Diolch. Yn dilyn i fyny ar hwnna, o dderbyn bod eu cyhoeddi nhw ar bapur yn bwysig ac eich bod chi, fel argraffwyr a chyhoeddwyr, eisiau cael gwared ar adran 20, a fuasai fo'n deg dweud, felly, y dylid galluogi mwy o bapurau i gyhoeddi hyn? Meddwl ydw i, er enghraifft, am bapurau bro. Os edrychwch chi ar ystadegau Llywodraeth Cymru yn mynd yn ôl i 2016, mae gan bapurau bro gylchrediad o 66,000 o bobl—mwy na'r Daily Post a'r Western Mail efo'i gilydd, er enghraifft. Mae mwy o bobl oedrannus yn darllen papurau bro. Yn ein cymunedau Cymraeg mae'r papurau bro yn cael eu darllen yn eang. A ddylen nhw gael chunk o'r pres yma? Ond buasai hynna'n bygwth eich papurau chi wedyn. Ydych chi'n meddwl bod hwnna'n ffordd ymlaen er mwyn sicrhau bod pobl yn fwy ymwybodus o beth sydd yn digwydd?

Thank you. Following up on that, accepting that publishing them in print is important and that you as publishers want to get rid of section 20, would it be fair to say that we should allow more papers to publish these? I'm thinking about local newspapers or papurau bro. If you look at Welsh Government statistics going back to 2016, papurau bro have a circulation of about 66,000—more than the Daily Post and the Western Mail together. More older people read the papurau bro. In our Welsh-speaking communities, they are read broadly. Should they have a chunk of this money? But that would then threaten your newspapers. Do you think that that's a way forward in order to ensure that people are more aware of what's going on?

I have to say, I don't know the specifics of that publication and their eligibility or otherwise to it. I think that this is about the principle. Our local newspapers have good reach in their communities. Other publishers' local newspapers will have the same too. If someone was to set up a new newspaper and so on, then they would be eligible for it too. We're not against other people getting access to the public notices. It's about this, first of all, providing a valuable service to people who would otherwise be excluded, and also providing value for the people publishing the notices in terms of the scale of reach and audience that we can provide, and the additional added public-good benefit of supporting local journalism and the wider benefits that that has for our communities.

For us, it would be very much about reaching people through those routes. The papurau bro would be a great example of how to do better public engagement with older people and how to extend that reach. For us, it's about how you reach people using the media that they read and that isn't just a simple, 'Put everything online.' The principle of getting to where people are actually reading and getting their information, that's the crux of it for us.

Yes, there is an important discussion to be had around how print and online can be supported in this way, and we'd welcome a discussion around that and the methodology that that would use. But that might be a discussion that needs to develop. At this point, we're looking at this particular clause, and the impact of this clause would be straightforward. It would remove access to information from a certain number of people, and it would damage the ability of journalists in Wales to do journalism.

Un cwestiwn terfynol, Gadeirydd, os caf i—diolch. Ddaru i Rachel sôn ynghynt am y ffaith bod yna gyfeiriad at drefniadau addas eraill—suitable alternatives. O dderbyn, hwyrach, na fydd adran 20 yn cael ei ddiddymu ac y bydd o'n aros, a fuasech chi'n dymuno gweld yr elfen honno'n cael ei chryfhau? Pa fath o drefniadau addas eraill y gallwch chi feddwl amdanyn nhw? Beth ydy eich awgrymiadau chi? Mae'r public notice portal rydych chi wedi cyfeirio ato yn un peth—oes, hwyrach, gyfle i sôn am hynny, neu beth arall allwch chi feddwl amdano fe?

One final question, if I may, Chair—thanks. Rachel mentioned earlier the fact that there's a reference to suitable alternative arrangements. Accepting, perhaps, that section 20 won't be removed and it will remain, would you wish to see that element being strengthened? What kind of other suitable arrangements could you think of? What are your suggestions? The public notice portal you've referred to is one thing—is there an opportunity to mention that perhaps, or what else would you recommend?

The major problem here is that there hasn't been adequate exploration of what does constitute suitable alternative arrangements. It seems that, at the present time, there's an intention to take something away, to say that this no longer needs to be in printed newspapers, which we know do reach older people. I think Rob talked about people having to go out and get newspapers, while Carolyn's proved the point that, actually, people do still have newspapers delivered, so news still does come to people, still does come to older people. But it's that, 'What are these suitable alternative arrangements?', because we've seen that, increasingly, older people are telling the older people's commissioner that they're not getting information in the way that they need it, that people are not able to access services in the way that they need to use them, and that this is an increasing problem. So, whatever we're doing now, whatever local authorities, health boards and other industries are doing now, isn't working.

So, I don't have a magic bullet as to, 'Okay, if you're not going to do this, do that.' I think that this is part of a broader conversation that we need to have. From what older people have told us, we would have qualms about taking something away without having thought about, 'Okay, but how are we reaching people who are digitally excluded?', which includes a large number of older people, but it's not an issue that's exclusive to older people. So, we could maybe talk about, 'Okay, in terms of reaching older people across Wales, through means that aren't just online, then, X would work', but that doesn't necessarily mean that that would work for people who are digitally excluded because of disabilities or who are digitally excluded because of low incomes. And, obviously, those aren't mutually exclusive categories, but it's that not exploring what those suitable arrangements are, and the rush to move towards them, that is a big concern.


Okay, we're going to have to move on, because we've got limited time left, I'm afraid. We've covered quite a lot of ground already, so, with our further questions, we'll have to make sure that we're not going over what's already been discussed. Joel. 

Thank you, Chair, and thanks, everyone, for coming in this morning. I think you're right—a lot of the questions I wanted to ask have already been answered, but I'd just like to ask a question of Rob, if I may. I know, in your written evidence, right at the end—and if I can quote from it—you said, 

'Wrexham.com welcomes the broad wording used in the current proposals. We would also welcome long overdue change in similar law as promptly as possible'.

I was just wondering what other laws you were referring to there. 

Thanks. There was a rundown earlier, I think, from Newsquest, saying that statutory notices are not just, obviously, for this Bill. It comes under a wide range—some are devolved, and some are UK Government changes that are required. But it does highlight the point that when we speak to people about statutory notices—and this is, as I've said in the committee previously, Members, local councils, et cetera, highways agencies, you name it, everybody; licensing, you open a pub, you try and change your hours, you've got to put a notice in locally as well—they all seem to kind of say, 'Yes, it's not great, but we need to do it, it's the law', and there's a need to go and change the law to make this better, basically. And this is the point you're at now. This is the crux of it. This is the point where the bad laws change to good laws. And I favour keeping the law broad—the wording of the law broad. For example, back in, I think, 2017, I was having a debate with Lee Waters, and we were talking about Snapchat, possibly even Vine back then. Things change over time, and there is a decline in print, and if you keep things broad, you could say, at the moment, that a decent, embedded print product, with a local, relevant reach, would come under the new law, so revenues would still stay there. It may not be as big, but they would still be eligible. And that's where, I think, if you keep it broad enough, the law is good, and then the outputs would adapt. And, coming back to the commissioner, hopefully that would then trigger research to see what comes under it, as good examples, bad examples—you measure it and check value for money. 

I will just touch on the commissioner's point, and Carolyn Thomas's point, which is a good example of a print product. If they can't read it, it's not good. 

Thank you, Chair. And to just come back, there, to what Carolyn was saying, even with my eyesight, these days, I struggle to read the public notices, but I also think that the formality of them as well puts people off engaging. Most people I know, when they read it, they think, 'Oh, I'm not reading that', even if it's a small article. So, maybe that's something we could look into, in terms of how that engages with people. It's not just the advert itself, but the formality of the wording.

Yes, whether it could be a bit more user friendly if there was some text around the notice, not just the notice itself. 


Can you tell me which one we're up to now, which question, Chair?

Which question are we up to? Sorry, I can't hear you.

I think we've reached question 8, Carolyn, alternative arrangements that local authorities might make.

Thank you. I was just looking at this. Because we haven't got the WLGA here giving evidence, I was wondering how people would be able to respond to this, but I will ask the question. What alternative arrangements could local authorities use to make notices accessible, were the Bill to become law? Perhaps the older people's commissioner could answer this question. I know that many older people live in sheltered accommodation and they might share news via other forms. I know the older person's newsletter was mentioned earlier, in Flintshire. Some still have wardens. They have local newsletters as well, just as an example. But it does seem to be an issue across the board anyway, about making sure that older people do get the correct information. So, just, really, your views on that. Thank you.

As Carolyn said, we've mentioned a few possible alternative arrangements were the Bill to proceed as currently framed. So, any ideas, I guess, or thoughts, are welcome.

I think there are a number of different things that could happen—some of the examples that Carolyn has just given there about where older people live, people receiving notices through newsletters, by post. But I think, again, the issue here is what is a suitable alternative arrangement and how could we guarantee consistency across Wales, across local authorities. At a time of difficult public finances, how are we going to make sure that all of those things are happening? Whose responsibility does it come under? Whose responsibility is it to check and to make sure those things that happen are happening across Wales consistently? Absolutely, the current requirement may not be perfect, but the concern is about taking something away and putting in place an ineffective patchwork of different arrangements to reach different groups of older people wherever they may be. I don't see anything at the moment that suggests that there has been enough thought into what constitutes that.

Could I come back to you, though, and say—? I do have the Leader delivered and I pick up other newspapers, but notices are put to the back, and many people are interested in the local news that might actually impact them and affect them, which is always to the front of the newspaper. Very often, you have tv listings in the middle. If public notices are put, as they usually are, right at the back—and like I said, I'll just check now, because I never even read them myself, which is bad, I know—in such tiny print that you can't read, that's not really delivering for older people, is it? I really think that needs to be addressed. Could I have your thoughts on that, please?

Absolutely. There are definitely improvements that could be made in terms of making things more accessible in the current arrangements—larger print—but there are means that older people will be able to use to hopefully access those things. It's the concerns about the increasing move towards digitalisation. Rob mentioned our 'Access Denied' report, which came out yesterday, which shows how more and more older people are feeling digitally excluded, are feeling left behind, that the modern world isn't designed for older people anymore. But it's this principle of 'Okay, we will move things online, but we haven't adequately thought about what offline access looks like' that's of concern. But absolutely, Carolyn, there are things that should be done in the current situation to make those things more accessible for people to access and to read.

This is talking as though the situation at the moment is wonderful. We've done this 20 mph FOI, and the responses—. We asked how much they spent on the notices, the titles of the publications, and the question we asked as well is, 'Can you give us the latest circulation figures for the publications and the known date of the last refresh of that information?' I think only one council has come back saying they know the circulations. So, this isn't something that's being measured at the moment and is something that's a good thing, and it shows that this is a bad law. The requirement is to place a notice in a newspaper that is circulating. We've got the one FOI that came back and said that there was a notice that was placed in the Gwent Gazette, and if you look at the ABC for that—and Reach might want to feed in on this—it says there's only 347 copies of that. That seems extraordinary, but, again, that was an unknown figure. We speak to councils, and Welsh Government as well—let's widen this out. We've done a piece before where the Welsh Government placed statutory notices, we've asked them for the circulation figures, and it's, 'We don't know'. There is no requirement for them to know, so they don't do it. The act of this law is to place the notice, and it's a fire and forget. And that's not good. I've said it before: it's a bad, old law. 


We really do need to move on, I'm afraid. Time is very pressing. Sam, is there anything you think you'd want to add, given what we've already heard?

Yes, I think there is, actually, Chair, if you don't mind. I'm grateful to everyone for being with us this morning. Just a quick comment. I know we've talked about digital exclusion, generally, in the context of older people here today, and, I guess, as we have the representative for the older person's commissioner here, that's understandable. But there is, actually, a growing trend of people who digitally exclude themselves for mental health reasons as well, particularly with people moving to dumbphones, and the younger generation now wanting to move away from smartphones because of the impact on their health. So, I think, whilst, yes, we need to understand the needs of older people, there's actually a growing group of people who exclude themselves from the digital world. I think that may grow in the future as well, as we understand the impact of the digital world on people's mental health in particular. So, just a comment there. 

But perhaps a question, Chair, if I may, around the potential impact or unintended consequence around democracy and how people are informed, and this broader issue—not to get too philosophical—around transparency in politics and decisions being made. I know, Gavin, there was a comment in your written evidence that the provisions will damage democracy in Wales, and, I think, Steffan, in your written evidence as well, there's a comment in there that it would further exacerbate the democratic deficit that we face. So, I'd be interested to hear a bit about that, and, I guess, the power of perception within political decision making and decision makers. I appreciate the points that Rob has been making about, perhaps, circulation numbers and things, but there's real power in perception and transparency, and I wonder, perhaps, if you could comment on that in terms of democracy as well.

I suspect everyone would agree that, without local journalism, local democracy is not as good—without the ability to hold people to account, to challenge the councils, to inform people about what all of you are doing. Just on very simple levels, as Jayne and John will know, we give columns to all our Senedd Members in the South Wales Argus, for example—it gives you an opportunity to communicate directly with our readers—but we also take the councils to task, and all those different things. Without that, engagement is poorer.

The fact that we still don't have 50 per cent of people voting in Senedd elections is a concern in Wales, but losing more local journalists, losing more local titles, will only make that worse, because people will be less engaged. And as I've picked up on before, we don't have the depth of national media that means that people will find that information elsewhere. 

Local journalism better informs communities—on democratic issues, but also just in terms of promoting wider community cohesion. And if we look at our situation in Newsquest, if we removed six print newspapers because they were no longer making money, then those communities would be worse off for it. There's no doubt about that. I don't think anyone would disagree that, without local journalism, local communities are worse off.  

Sam, I think Steffan wanted to contribute on this. 

Sam raising the word 'transparency' is really important. How much more transparent can you get than a notice in black and white in a newspaper of record? That is almost the most transparent thing I can think of, and once these notices start retreating onto local authority websites or anywhere else, then that transparency from the notices vanishes, really.

And then, in terms of the point around the democratic deficit, I think Gavin has more or less made this point, and we've made it a lot today anyway, but the more challenged revenues of news publishers become, the more difficult they are going to find it to produce that sort of public interest journalism that Wales really needs.


All right, Sam? Let's move on to Jayne Bryant, then, and perhaps possible ways forward in terms of the legislation and what might change. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd, and good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us. I think you've been really clear on all of your views on this, so I suppose it's trying to finish with what you think could be a compromise. I think, Rachel, you've really touched on a couple of things, about keeping things broad, but are there any other ways you think there could be a compromise through this? Or are you all very much settled in those views?

I think it's about exploring exactly what those suitable alternatives arrangements are before we start removing something that, however imperfect, is reaching people who are digitally excluded, particularly older populations. So, the way forward, if that obligation is to be removed, needs to be through something clear, something transparent, that we know will be effective across 22 different local authorities. And without being certain about what that is, testing that with various different groups is something that would need to happen.

I think, from our point of view, we're very clear that this section shouldn't be in the Bill. We recognise public notices aren't perfect, and we recognise that society is changing. I think the industry is very willing to work, whether it be with the Welsh Government or others, on the longer term future. The public interest journalism working group that I mentioned earlier did discuss this. We had quite robust discussions. It includes publishers from a wide range. I'm on it, Reach is represented on it, but so are the Independent Community News Network, so is the Caerphilly Observer, so lots of different types of organisations. We won't all have the same starting point on things, but the key thing that I think came out of the report for that is, first of all, to recognise that this revenue is really important to the provision of local news across Wales and, secondly, that any significant change to that needs to be something that involves a deep engagement with the industry and a long enough road map to be able to adapt and mitigate any changes. I don't feel that dropping it in as, effectively, a bit of an aside in a Bill about council tax is the way to start that. I think it should come out of this, and then we can have a wider discussion, by all means, and I'm happy to pick up on feedback about things like print size. Those are the sorts of things we can talk about, as an industry, and look at ways—. We've changed our death notices recently to make them easier to read. So, it's not beyond the realms that we can look at public notices in that regard too.

It's good to hear, as somebody who gets the paper delivered and reads those. The death notices are very clear. I think that's covered it, Cadeirydd. 

Did anybody else want to say anything in terms of a possible compromise and way forward? It has been suggested that local authorities may well use the print media for these notices, even if they're not required to do so, and some have said that there could be a provision where both feature, where it's online and in print. Rob. 

Just a very quick comment that the feedback here is that this is the end of possible revenue streams for Reach, Newsquest and others, and it's a little bit disingenuous to be coming to the table now saying, 'Now we'll look at making the print more accessible', for example, to older people or people who can't read the notices, and that's what we're going to look at and how we're going to engage with it. I'd also say that the argument put forward is not a case of supporting journalism in Wales here. This is supporting a very specific print subsection of the industry in Wales. We've got a great local radio station here. There's no argument here saying we're going to broaden it out and engage and put statutory notices via them as well. And this is what I mean—it's a bad, out-of-date law that is protectionist in nature. I think I've made that point several times.

Steffan, is there anything you'd like to point the committee towards, in terms of what might be a compromise way forward?


Like Gavin said, I'd be happy to take part in any of those discussions. I think the point I was going to say, around your specific question, around compromise, is I don't see any suggestion of a compromise at the moment. And I think Rachel's made the point perfectly, that nothing alternative is being suggested here. The only suggestion is that something is taken away, with nothing certain to replace it, and so there aren't any positive benefits to that at the moment; there are only negatives to that.

Really quickly, just to address Rob's last point there about supporting the print sections of publishers: that's not correct. Print revenue supports newsrooms as a whole and it supports WalesOnline's enormous readership and a very substantial number of journalists.

Okay. I'm afraid we're going to have to call it a day there. I'm afraid we've simply run out of time. Thank you all for coming in to give evidence today, in person and online. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way, but diolch yn fawr.

3. Papurau i’w nodi
3. Papers to note

Item 3 on our agenda today is papers to note. We have one paper, which is a letter from the Minister for Finance and Local Government, in relation to the recent meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Group for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Are Members content to note that paper? I see that you are.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 4 is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Is committee content to do so? I see that you are. Thank you very much. We will move to private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:31.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:31.