West Country titles unite to push for more funding

E&E: part of a concerted effort

 

Four daily newspapers in the West Country have united in a campaign to force the Government to put £150m into the area’s ailing economy, devastated by foot and mouth.

Not only farming, but small businesses and tourism have been hit -with 30 per cent of every pound generated in the region coming from farming and tourism.

Rather than wait for these businesses to go to the wall, the Express & Echo, Exeter, the Herald-Express, Torquay, the Western Morning News and Evening Herald, Plymouth, have begun a concerted push to secure Government funding.

Beginning with a meeting between the four editors and managing director of Westcountry Publications, Andy Gough, the Northcliffe newspapers decided to set up a co-ordinated, eight-strong team to produce an eight-page wrapround for their papers – with a separate masthead for each area.

Steve Hall, editor of the Express & Echo, edited the pages.

Gough said that as far as he was aware, this unified approach had not been done elsewhere in the regions and the idea had been supported wholeheartedly by other media in the south-west.

The initiative sprang from seeing the Government throw £50m into public funds when Corus axed 6,000 steelworkers’ jobs in South Wales.

Projections from Devon County Council are for job losses twice that in the four papers’ circulation areas.

Copies of the papers went to every MP. The wrapround sparked two early day motions in the House of Commons in support of the campaign.

Prime Minister Tony Blair responded with a long letter of sympathy, outlining new help for small tourist and retail businesses Ð but while accepting more help may be needed, said he could not promise a "blank cheque".

The papers were not appeased.

In a front page leader last Friday, the Express & Echo said Blair had responded with warm words but no promise of the kind of financial aid that would help the region.

"Without a firm pledge of targeted financial help there were many for whom his words had a hollow ring," said the evening paper.

By Jean Morgan

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