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Pensions axe for news staff prompts industrial action vote

Journalists at Cumbrian Newspapers in Carlisle have voted to ballot for industrial action over plans to scrap their pension scheme.

Parent company CN Group wants to close its final-salary pension scheme to new and existing members from November 1.

It is instead proposing to introduce a defined contribution scheme, and has launched two months of consultation with staff.

The National Union of Journalists claims the alternative scheme proposed by the company will leave staff thousands of pounds a year worse off when they retire.

Julian Whittle, father of chapel at Cumbrian Newspapers in Carlisle, said: “Some of our members will have their pensions cut by £4,000 or £5,000 a year. Someone who lives to be 85 could lose £80,000 to £100,000.

“That’s a huge amount and the difference between a comfortable retirement or simply surviving with enough for heating and food but nothing left over.”

Many businesses have closed final-salary schemes to new members but CN Group is one of the first to propose closing its scheme to existing staff, in a move which would alter their retirement plans.

The company says the scheme is in deficit by £7.7m and it cannot afford the financial risk of keeping it going.

But Julian said: “Using the company’s own figures, the deficit should be eliminated within 15 years. They can afford to pay staff a decent pension.”

Union president Chris Morley travelled to Carlisle on Tuesday for talks with CN Group’s chief executive Robin Burgess.

The union’s National Executive Committee has passed a resolution calling on CN Group to drop the proposed changes.

Group newspapers include The Cumberland News, News & Star, Times & Star, Whitehaven News, North West Evening Mail, Hexham Courant and Eskdale & Liddesdale Advertiser.

It also publishes Cumbria Life magazine, Business Gazette, the East and West Cumbria Gazettes and the Barrow Advertiser, and it owns several radio stations including The Bay in Lancaster and Lakeland Radio in Kendal.

Barrow Chapel members, who produce the North West Evening Mail, also voted to be balloted for action, while journalists at Cumbrian Newspapers titles in West Cumbria were expected to follow suit.

CN Group chief executive Robin Burgess has described the decision to ballot for industrial action as premature and said it had “come out of the blue in terms of timing”.

He said: “We’re still consulting on my proposed changes and no decision has been taken.”

He added: “It is not a cost-cutting exercise, it will probably cost the company slightly more.

“It is about ensuring the strength and viability of the business. The risks of carrying on the present scheme are quite great.”