A regional publisher is to temporarily cut staff pay and place journalists on leave due to the coronavirus pandemic – while publication of some free titles could also be suspended.
Newsquest has announced it is placing a “significant number” of employees on leave through the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, which will see those affected receive 80pc of their basic salary, while it will also implement a 15pc wage cut for other staff earning more than £18k from 1 April.
The cut will apply to the difference on the amount the employee earns over £18k, meaning, for example, someone on a basic salary of £22k will have the 15pc reduction applied to £4,000.
The company says it may also suspend certain free distribution products to save costs, but has made clear it does not intend to suspend paid-for newspapers and websites “even if unprofitable”.
Senior managers within the business will also be required to take two weeks of unpaid furlough, although this will not apply to editors “in most cases”.
HTFP understands the majority of staff to be placed on furlough will be advertising and sales staff, and that employees can apply to be voluntarily to be put on the scheme.
It is understood that the company is keen to ensure that frontline editorial roles are protected and, while some editorial staff will be put onto the scheme, most are to be retained.
In the email, which has been seen by HTFP, chief executive Henry Faure-Walker wrote: “As you are all aware, the coronavirus is having a profound impact on day to day living and business activity across the UK and across the world.
“Our first steps have been focused on keeping our employees as safe as possible, moving to remote working, social distancing and associated policies throughout the business.
“We now have to turn our attention to the economic impact on our business. Despite the sterling efforts of our teams, we are seeing very significant declines in our revenue, particularly from advertising, as many of our customers cancel or put their plans on hold. Standing still is therefore not an option.
“In order to ensure that we weather this storm, we are taking a number of decisive actions that will impact all of us. We do not take these actions lightly, but they will ensure that we come out strong on the other side of this, and minimise wider job losses.”
The government scheme covers 80pc of salary for employees earning up to £2,500 per month, but Henry said Newsquest would extend this such that all employees on this furlough will receive 80pc of their basic salary.
Henry added: “If you are placed onto furlough, please be assured that this is not related to your job performance. It is related to the unprecedented times we find ourselves in.
“Deploying furlough enables us to respond to the sharp downturn in activity and continue to pay our employees during this period. During the furlough period, you remain an employee, and all of your other terms and conditions of employment remain the same.
“We hope that we will be in a position to return to normal employment levels as soon as our revenues recover, which we all hope will be in the not too distant future.
“In most cases, you will be notified by your manager in the next two days if your role is deemed suitable to be placed onto furlough, and further details will be provided at that time. We cannot be certain how the future will unfold, and it is possible that we will expand furlough at a later date to include more staff.”
The pay reduction for all staff not on furlough will apply “until we see more normal trading conditions resume”, Henry said, while the Newsquest senior manager bonus scheme will also cease to accrue from 1 April until pay reductions can be reversed.
No decision has yet been made on which titles may be suspended, it is understood.
Henry concluded: “In addition to the above, we are pursuing other areas where we can further reduce costs. This may include some suspension of certain free distribution products.
“We do not intend to suspend paid-for newspapers and websites, even if unprofitable, particularly given the essential role that they play in providing our communities with trusted news and information at this critical time.
“I appreciate that these actions are unsettling, but we believe they are necessary to cope with this extraordinary situation. We will get through this and with your help, come out stronger on the other side. Thank you for all that you do, and above all stay safe.”
The National Union of Journalists has described the plan as “devastating for UK’s local news provision”.
Fed Bedendo, Mother of Chapel for the Newsquest NUJ group chapel, said: “At a time when we are working harder than ever to keep the public informed and we are demonstrating how vital local journalism is, this comes as a real kick in the teeth.
“Staff are working from home, facing extra expenses for electricity and heating bills to keep themselves and their families safe and some of us already face hardship due to other household members losing trade due to the coronavirus.
“Newsquest is taking part in the #ThereForYou campaign urging communities to pull together, yet this is the support their staff are receiving – an attempt to cut their wages.”