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There is also a role for the Government. They need to look urgently at the law regarding monopoly restrictions on local newspapers. There is now so much media choice, with radio, TV, other niche publications and websites, that the notion of strictly newspaper-dominated local monopolies simply does not hold water. There is also a certain paradox. Some newspaper groups have always enjoyed a monopoly in certain towns with absolutely no problem at all, yet newspapers cannot merge in other towns to safeguard their futures. That does not seem to be either fair or in the community’s interests. The Office of Fair Trading perhaps needs to consider how it interprets the law with regard to the wider operation of the local media rather than simply considering the local newspapers. The Reading Chronicle is part of a family-owned group,
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yet it was forced to sell one of its Slough newspapers owing to the OFT ruling that it would have a local monopoly.

I can understand the concerns about local monopoly positions. I know that some local politicians in particular are concerned about the political and editorial stance of some local newspapers. My view is that local newspapers that want to maintain circulation will avoid getting involved in the childish political squabbles that take place from time to time and will focus just on serving the interests of their local communities.

I would have liked to have gone on to talk a bit about local television, but I think that I am going to run out of time. My message to the House this afternoon, as well as to my local media, is: use it, or lose it.

3.12 pm

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I want to use the debate to highlight my concern at the decision by the Guardian Media Group to announce 150 job losses at the Manchester Evening News and its 22 weekly newspapers, including the extremely successful Stockport Express, which serves my constituency. The weekly newspapers will continue to exist but their offices will be closed and the papers will all be written and designed at head office in Manchester by a remote pool of journalists. That development chimes with an unwelcome national trend towards centralisation of services and people. Sixty local newspapers out of 1,300 closed last year according to the Newspaper Society, and we do not want our weekly newspapers in the Manchester area to end up suffering the same fate.

Local newspapers such as the Stockport Express , which has been going since 1889, play an essential role at the heart of their communities. That is because they are written by journalists who are constantly out and about and who know the local area and its people well. Local newspapers strengthen democracy and community life and hold local government and other organisations to account. They also provide a forum for individuals and organisations to speak to each other.

Unlike many other newspapers locally and nationally, the Stockport Express is bucking the national trend and is gaining new readers all the time. It is the only paper in the north-west to have increased its sales. The latest ABC figures show that circulation has risen by 1 per cent. while every other title was down, in most cases by more than 5 per cent. In fact, the Stockport Express is the only one of 25 paid-for weekly papers in the whole UK to have seen an increase in sales, so it is very sad that instead of building on such a great success story, the Stockport Express is about to be weakened by having no editorial presence in the town. The rise in sales of the Stockport Express under the able editorship of Mandy Leigh has been accomplished as a result of the paper’s reputation as a trusted, honest and open community newspaper. It is very grass roots: it understands the community and gives it what it wants, which will not happen if the editorial staff are all based in Manchester.

The Stockport Express has six very popular district pages devoted to small areas of the town. Those are the pages that readers often turn to first, and people tell me that it feels as though they know exactly what is happening
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in their road. The paper also runs hard-hitting campaigns, such as the one to save Stockport’s Plaza theatre. That campaign is going from strength to strength. The paper has exposed countless stories of wrongdoing, and its very good sports page is often devoted to coverage of Stockport County, the local football team. Readers have been following the team’s financial ups and downs, as well as its success in the league, and each week there is another episode in what is an exciting saga.

The paper provides a vital voice for the man or woman in the street. People feel that they can turn to it if they have an issue or a problem that they want to air. If they are unhappy with the care an elderly relative has received, for instance, they feel confident that their local paper will give them a fair hearing and will not willingly misrepresent them.

Highlighting individual cases also brings to the attention of local and national policymakers wider cases of injustice, and that can help to bring about change. I remember how one such incident began with a story in the Stockport Express on neighbours’ complaints about noise and antisocial behaviour arising from a small children’s home. It transpired that there was no need for such homes to be legally registered but, after a successful campaign, legislation was introduced in 2000 to require small children’s homes to register, which allowed better monitoring of such premises. I can think of many examples over the years that illustrate the important part that local newspapers play in the democratic process of bringing about change.

The Stockport Express has also been a prolific winner of awards over the years. It was the last holder of the Guardian Media Group’s award for best paid-for weekly, and is the current holder of the How-Do award for weekly newspaper of the year. Several of its journalists—including chief reporter Peter Devine—and photographers have won national awards.

If the Guardian Media Group proposals go ahead and the Stockport Express is produced in Manchester, face-to-face contact with the town of Stockport will be lost and there will be no on-the-spot journalists. The upshot will be that the bond between paper and town will be loosened, which can only damage the paper’s future prospects.

When I gave my maiden speech in the House of Commons in May 1992 I praised our good local press, which then comprised of six papers. Since then, all of them have closed, apart from the Stockport Express and its sister paper the Stockport Times. It is ironic that The Guardian began in Manchester as a successful independent community newspaper, and yet the Guardian Media Group plans to take this drastic action.

Local newspapers provide a documented record of our social history that cannot be replaced by social networking sites and the internet. They are a record for generations to come, and for a town to lose one would be to lose its collective memory. Therefore, I urge the Guardian Media Group to think again about its proposed cuts.

3.17 pm

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I rise to speak unashamedly in support of my local newspapers, which have had a long and impressive involvement in the community. The most important of the various
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local newspapers is the Northampton Herald and Post, but the paid-for daily the Northampton Chronicle and Echo dates back almost 300 years. We are very proud of it, and it is an integral part of what Northampton is all about.

The Chronicle and Echo is produced six days a week, and it offers the community an excellent product. I am not currying favour by saying that, because the truth is that the Chronicle and Echo is a vital part of our community. I am not sure that it gets all the recognition that it deserves—and therein lies one of the problems that we face.

I do not believe that the value of the Chronicle and Echo is recognised enough in the House, or by local government officials in the Northampton area. They always allude to it as “the Chronic”, which gives the House some idea of how it is regarded. Yet I assure the House that, if it were to disappear—I do not think there is any threat of that, and I would be horrified to learn otherwise—those same people would shout their mouths off because it was no longer there. The paper’s value to local democracy is immeasurable.

The paper is the major vehicle for broadcasting local democracy—for understanding it and raising interest in it in the community. We misunderstand what local newspapers are about if we fail to recognise that role. I pay tribute to David Summers, the editor, Richard Edmonds, the news editor, Wayne Bontoft, the reporter, and the journalist team, whose jobs are under threat, as are those of many journalist teams up and down the country.

I pay tribute to the bravery of those journalists. They get involved in political matters. They encourage political involvement. Thank God, the days when local newspapers simply carried obituaries and photographs of weddings are long gone—not that that was ever part of the Northampton local newspaper scene. Local newspaper teams show considerable courage and journalistic ability in reporting local news honestly and clearly. Without that, our local democracy would be less.

In the brief time left for my speech, I shall talk about the difficulties faced by the local newspaper. The number of car adverts has fallen dramatically. That is a simplistic statement, because we know that people are not buying cars in anywhere near the numbers of a year ago. There has been a massive fall in car advertising. On Thursdays, the major day for job advertising, the number of job adverts has gone down from 1,000 to 200. That is a reflection of the problems we face nationally, but—importantly—that newspapers face in terms of advertising revenue.

Official notices are absolutely vital. Although I understood the reasons for passing the insolvency measure earlier, it will none the less further hit local newspapers. We need to understand that. I call on the Government to ensure that as much as possible of the advertising revenue in their remit is directed to local newspapers. If ever they needed the help of the Government, the House, and indeed local authorities, it is now. If we lose our local newspapers, we will regret it for ever more.

3.22 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), I am concerned about the decision by the Guardian
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Media Group to close local news offices across Greater Manchester, coming as it does when the Manchester Evening News, the regional sister paper, has already faced substantial cuts. The decision means that scores of journalists will lose their jobs, which will have a huge impact on the quality and coverage of local news in my Denton and Reddish constituency. There will be a profound impact on great local titles such as the Stockport Express and Times and the Tameside Advertiser.

We all know that local newspapers have an absolutely central role at the heart of local communities, so I was shocked by the announcement that Guardian Media Group is making 150 redundancies, including 78 journalists, and closing all its weekly newspaper offices in Greater Manchester. It means that 39 jobs will go at the Manchester Evening News and another 39 jobs will disappear in the weekly newspapers, including the titles covering my constituency—the Stockport Express and Times and the Tameside Advertise r.

The plans also mean that all weekly papers in the MEN group, from as far north as Accrington to as far south as Wilmslow, will be based at its Deansgate office in central Manchester. That is devastating not only for the staff involved, but for Greater Manchester and the surrounding areas as a whole.

As we have already said, local newspapers play an essential role at the heart of their communities and are written by a group of dedicated journalists. Local newspapers provide quality, independent journalism; they hold authorities to account and campaign on behalf of readers, to professional standards of fairness and accuracy and with no agenda other than the public interest. It is more important than ever to preserve those principles, but the closure of local newspaper offices will have a profound effect on them. The founding fathers of The Manchester Guardian, as it was originally called, and in particular its long-time editor, C.P. Scott, would be appalled and saddened by the developments. As he said in his centenary lecture, a newspaper is


and has a

Let me give examples from my constituency. The Stockport Express and Times and the Tameside Advertiser are an integral part of their communities, and have been for many years. They play a major role in informing residents about events, crime, and local schools and their activities. They celebrate local success and highlight failures, and call the council and Members of Parliament to account through their investigative journalism.

In Tameside, many people feel that moving the branch office from Ashton-under-Lyne will mean that local people will have reduced access to democracy. In my constituency, many people pop into the Ashton office to give journalists a juicy story, to find out more about something that appeared in the previous week’s paper, or just to voice their concerns about certain issues. The same is true in Stockport, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport.

Similar issues arise from reduced distribution. A substantial number of people do not have internet access, so they cannot go online to find out what is happening. The beauty of purely local newspapers is
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that they avoid that problem. If we lose that presence in the two boroughs that I represent, people will feel that the title should no longer be the Tameside Advertiser or the Stockport Express; the newspapers will be more a Tameside or Stockport version of the Manchester Evening News, with a reduced number of pictures and stories, and more shared elements across the whole of Greater Manchester.

For journalists, unemployment is a big issue. Most have trained to postgraduate level, and then spend at least 18 months training to take the national certificate examination in journalism. At present there are virtually no jobs to be had in journalism, certainly not in Greater Manchester, where the Manchester Evening News media have a virtual monopoly. That means that standards in journalism will be lowered, and we should all be concerned about that.

Localism is the important factor for people in my constituency. The Stockport Express and the Tameside Advertiser are wonderful local campaigning newspapers with dedicated journalists. The Stockport Express has been an institution in Stockport since 1889. The Tameside Advertiser is a newer title than its Stockport sister paper, but it is just as highly regarded in the borough. This disgraceful decision urgently needs to be reversed. The newspapers are the key to campaigning in our areas, and we need to make sure that they are preserved for the future.

3.27 pm

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): I am well aware that the subject of today’s debate is local and regional news, but I hope that hon. Members will understand if I restrict my remarks to the job losses announced at the Guardian Media Group just last week. I should like to take this opportunity to refer hon. Members to early-day motion 1044, which is in my name.

There is no point denying that local news is going through a torrid time, with advertising revenues falling and the recession hitting it hard. I am aware that the Guardian Media Group job losses are just the most recent example of a problem that is prevalent across the country. I rise to speak today to say that the newspapers that cover my constituency of Cheadle are under threat. The Guardian Media Group owns not only the Manchester Evening News but some two dozen titles across Greater Manchester, including the Stockport Express and Times, which, as we have heard, covers the whole of the Stockport borough, including my constituency.

Just last week, the chief executive of the Guardian Media Group announced 150 job cuts. That includes the jobs of 78 journalists, 39 of them from the Manchester Evening News and 39 from weekly newspapers right across the Greater Manchester area, including the Stockport Express and Times. Some of the job cuts will be voluntary, but there is little doubt that for the first time in its long and proud history, the Guardian Media Group will be responsible for compulsory editorial redundancies at the Manchester Evening News.

The group also announced that it would close the Stockport editorial office—and, indeed, all its editorial offices across the Greater Manchester area—with the result that the Stockport Express will no longer be produced in the area that it covers. Instead, it will be
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designed around a common template, with the central section containing common pages drawn from the Manchester Evening News leisure and entertainment content. It will be created at the Manchester Evening News offices in Deansgate by a combined pool of journalists, and the content of the paper will be shared with the Manchester Evening News. In other words, it will not remain local, and it will not retain the local community flavour that has been created by hard-working, locally based journalists. That will be a devastating blow to the community. The Stockport Express is vital to the life-blood of our area. It increases community engagement, and it strengthens local identity. The editor, Mandy Leigh, and all her team deserve congratulations on producing award-winning newspapers.

Many residents rely on the local paper for local news, to hear about local events, and to keep connected as a community. For elderly and infirm readers especially, the local paper is a vital source of information and a key link to the local area. As a former employee of the Guardian Media Group myself, I am all too aware of the dedication and hard work that many people have put in over the years to build up Greater Manchester’s local weekly newspapers, and it would be a tragedy if that hard work was allowed to go to waste. Local papers, including the Stockport Express, provide excellent, quality, independent journalism. They report the news fairly and accurately to the public. They play a vital role in scrutinising and reporting the work of the Government and local elected representatives, holding public authorities to account and campaigning on behalf of local residents, all of which, in a time of economic uncertainty, are more important than ever.

Local papers reflect the local community, they cater for its needs and they work on its behalf. The plans by the Guardian Media Group will sever that link with the local area, losing the vital ingredient that makes local papers local. That can only damage the future of those papers. I join other hon. Members who have appealed to the Guardian Media Group to reconsider the proposals in the best interests of our community. I am happy to tell the House that it is a message that several of us will repeat to the chief executive of the Guardian Media Group, Mr. Mark Dodson, at a meeting later this afternoon.

3.32 pm

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I requested this debate last Thursday, and I am pleased that we are holding it today. I am pleased that everyone has enjoyed it so far, and I hope I can join in with a further contribution.

I want to speak about regional television and the fact that regional television companies are under the cosh, none more so than Granada. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) rightly stressed the importance of political programmes. The BBC screens a regional political show on Sunday, and we must ensure that we retain the showing of “Party People” at least once a month. Indeed, it should not be shown once a month but once a week. That is what competition is about, and it is unfair that there is no competition in regional and local news, because of the dominance of the BBC.

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