The government should extend existing 'right to bid' rules to help communities take over local newspapers and turn them into cooperatives, a new report has said.
The report, written by the consultant Dave Boyle for the Carnegie UK Trust, a charitable foundation, and Co-operatives UK, the umbrella body for cooperatives, says that local newspapers remain popular with readers but that falling advertising revenues make existing ownership models unsustainable.
The 'right to bid' rules give communities the right to nominate local assets to be put on a register of "assets of community value".
If an asset is on this register, the community has six months to make an offer before it is offered for general sale. Community groups have already taken over the running of shops, pubs and other assets using the model.
But the report, called Make Your Local News Work, says there are challenges for the model, such as the fact that it only applies to buildings or land, not businesses.
"Existing owners have proven to be resistant to selling assets that they deem surplus to requirements to others," it says. "Ownership transfer happens at a scale and pace that is usually beyond a community’s need to respond."
It says the government should extend 'right to bid' laws to services, in order to give communities first rights to buy titles facing closure.
The Carnegie Trust and Co-operatives UK are supporting four UK communities to take over local media. They are providing advice on securing ownership, managing stakeholders and business development.
Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: "Already a quarter of local authority areas do not have a local paper. From our research we can see community ownership works, but there is an urgent need to act before it is too late to save local news."
Cooperative media organisations are rare both in the UK and abroad, but papers controlled by staff exist in Scotland, Germany and Canada, the report says.