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Highfield: We won’t join regional press consortium

Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield has said the publisher does not intend to join the regional newspaper consortium being put together by David Montgomery.

It was revealed earlier this week that Northcliffe Media could be sold off by parent company DMGT in a move which would see its newspapers pooled with those of Iliffe News and Media, although no deals have yet been signed.

Under the plans, a new company called Local World would be formed, headed by former Mirror Group chief executive Mr Montgomery with Trinity Mirror as a minority shareholder.

In an interview with MediaGuardian, Ashley said the time was not right to join the venture and he wanted to focus on paying off JP’s debts, although he did support consolidation in the regional press.

He said: “I’m focusing on transforming our business and paying our debt down, that is our number one priority. I don’t want all my or my management’s time sucked up in mergers and acquisitions.

“Consolidation is a good thing and I am watching with interest. If Monty does put it together it breaks the groundwork for consolidation. I’ve kept our powder dry.

“It is not something I’m focused on right now but given I’m a believer in consolidation it is not something I’d say no to, it depends on the timing.

“I would rather get the share price up before any M&A activity. I’d rather see the relative strength in our equity to take into any activity. We have no plans.”

Ashley aims to reduced JP’s net debt from around £332m to £240m by the end of 2014.

Under the Local World plans, Northcliffe Media’s 84 regional newspapers would be pooled with Iliffe’s titles, which include the Cambridge News, Burton Mail and 25 weekly newspapers, paving the way for more deals to be struck.

The parent companies of both regional publisher have confirmed they are in talks over their futures but stress that no agreement has been reached.

Trinity Mirror is also in discussions about taking a stake in the company but is not expected to put its regional newspapers into the firm.

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  • October 31, 2012 at 11:58 am

    You can almost hear the sighs of relief from Montgomery & Co.

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