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Archant announces new ownership after investment firm deal

An investment firm is set to take a majority stake in Archant in a move which the regional publisher says will give it a “bright future”.

The company has announced to staff this morning that it has reached an agreement with London-based Rcapital Partners, which will take a 90pc stake in the business.

Two of Archant’s holding companies – Archant Limited and Archant Community Media Holdings Limited – will be placed into administration as a result of the move.

Archant Community Media Limited, the group’s trading company and employer of its staff, will not be affected.

Archant's Norwich headquarters

Archant’s Norwich headquarters

In an announcement to staff, company executive chairman Simon Bax said the business “will continue to operate as normal” as a result of the move.

However, Archant is also to put forward proposals to its creditors for a Company Voluntary Arrangement, which would see its defined benefit pension scheme move into the Pension Protection Fund, a ‘lifeboat’ scheme set up by the government to provide pension benefits to members of schemes whose sponsoring employers have become insolvent.

As a result, the PPF will take a 10pc equity stake in the business.

In the announcement, Simon said the vast majority of the company’s creditors will not be adversely affected by the CVA, while none of its employees will be adversely affected.

He said: “Sadly, this is not the case for our shareholders. With Archant Limited being placed into administration there will be no residual value in the shares. This will also apply to shares held by employees in the Share Incentive Plan.

“This will be shocking and upsetting for all our shareholders but especially for those who are rightly proud of their families’ personal connections with the company and our titles going back many years.”

He added: “I am confident that this arrangement will see us move forward with a new owner who is incredibly supportive of the business and our heritage, and that we have a bright future ahead.”

Archant launched a plea for investment earlier this summer after suffering significant falls in advertising revenue during the coronavirus crisis.

Reported interested parties included Newsquest and former Local World boss David Montgomery’s National World investment vehicle.

The company has also revealed it will not be renewing the lease on five of tis offices – in Barking, Worthing, Daresbury, March, and St Albans – while other premises may also be reviewed.

HTFP understands the company is seeking alternative offices in Barking, while it is not known whether this is the case for the other areas affected.

In a Q&A sent to staff about the takeover, Archant stated: “As ever, when leases come up for renewal, we take the opportunity to review our office needs.

“With the new technology – which served us so well throughout lockdown – and the move towards more agile working, we have decided not to renew the lease on several sites such as Barking, Worthing, Daresbury, March and St Albans.

“Other sites will be reviewed in due course.”

Chris Campbell, partner at Rcapital, said: “We are incredibly pleased to have worked alongside Archant’s management team and KPMG to put forward a plan that will restructure finances and inject fresh capital into one of Britain’s oldest local newspaper brands.

“We are hopeful, that with the support of its creditors, Archant will emerge from this challenging period as a stronger business that continues to provide a vital service to its clients and readership.

“Today’s announcement marks an exciting next phase for both Archant and Rcapital – I am looking forward to working with Simon and his team to deliver on the transformation plan.”

Chris Pole, partner at KPMG and proposed nominee of the CVA, added: “Archant has a proud heritage stretching back more than 170 years, publishing a number of titles and websites that lie at the cornerstone of regional communities.

“If approved, the CVA proposal represents an opportunity for the business to move forward on a more sustainable financial footing, with new investors who are committed to backing the transformation plan already underway.”