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Redundancies in store at Newsquest as CEO admits staffing cannot return to pre-Covid levels

Henry Faure WalkerRegional publisher Newsquest is preparing to make redundancies after its chief executive told employees the company was “unable to support” the staffing levels it had pre-lockdown.

Newsquest announced back in March that it was placing a “significant number” of employees on leave through the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, which saw the state paying 80pc of basic salaries, while also implementing a 15pc wage cut for other staff earning more than £18k.

Chief executive Henry Faure-Walker, left, has this week told staff that he hopes to return all staff to normal pay levels by 1 October, while the company has begun recalling some employees from furlough.

However Henry admitted that owing to “very heavy declines” in revenues over the past three months the company’s overall payroll could not return to pre-Covid levels and that would this would mean redundancies.

No figure has been put on the total number of job losses but Henry makes clear in his email that frontline reporting roles will be largely protected, although it is understood that some sports editor roles across the group may be at risk.

Newsquest publishes 160 print and online titles across the UK and despite the plummeting revenues, the publisher has seen what a spokesman called “phenomenal growth” in its online audiences during the lockdown.

Wrote Henry: “There is no escaping the fact that April and May were extremely challenging months for our revenues.  June has seen a small pick up in advertising activity, which we are encouraged about, but it is still a long way off pre-Covid levels and we expect the trading environment to be challenging for some time.

“Unfortunately, the very heavy declines in our revenues and the weak economic outlook means that we are unable to operate with and support the staff numbers that we had pre-Covid.

“I am afraid that this means that there will be redundancies and we will commence consultation with people who may be affected by this in the coming days.

“Advertising sales roles – which are most directly affected by the Covid downturn – will experience the most restructuring. Whilst some editorial roles are likely to be affected, we believe we can maintain the vast majority of journalist jobs and sustain front line reporter resource in particular.”

On staff pay, he wrote: “We plan to return all our staff to their normal pay levels from 1 October, unless there is a significant deterioration in the trading recovery and Covid situation.

“From July 1st, we will be reducing the amount of the pay reduction for non-furloughed staff by increasing the earnings threshold at which the 15pc reduction applies from £18k to £22k – this means that people earning less than £22k basic salary will not have any of their pay reduced, and people earning more than £22k will see an improvement.”

Henry also revealed that staff working in newspaper printing sites, who continued to keep the presses rolling during the lockdown, will have their pay returned to its normal level from 1 July.

And while urging staff who can work from home to continue to do so until further notice, he said each Newsquest business would be reviewing specific plans for how they can safely operate their offices “for some staff in a lower density working environment.”

Newsquest has declined to comment further on which roles may be affected by the redundancy plans but two local sports editors have already announced their departures on Twitter.

Ash Loveridge of the Stroud News and Journal, wrote: “Gutted to announce I’m being made redundant as SNJ sports editor.  Loved every minute of the job and the sporting friendships I’ve made during 18 years!”

Also departing after 35 years in journalism is Tony Harrison, head of sport at Newsquest’s Cumbria titles.

He wrote: “After more than 35 years in sports journalism, I have been informed that my position as Head of Sport – Cumbria, has been made redundant. It’s been a wonderful journey and I have made friends of almost every nationality. New horizons are being explored.”

A Newsquest spokesman said: “Like many other local media groups, our business has been hit hard by Covid-19.  Although, we have seen phenomenal growth in online audiences to our websites as people seek out trusted local news, we have experienced heavy declines in our advertising revenues.

“From July 1st, we will be starting the process of moving our staff back towards normal pay levels.  For example, someone earning £25k per annum will see their pay reduction improve from a 4.2% reduction in April to June, to a 1.8% reduction from July to September, and staff earning up to £22k per annum will see no salary reduction.  We intend to have all our staff back to normal pay from October 1st.

“Unfortunately, there will be some redundancies, principally in advertising sales.  Whilst some editorial roles are likely to be affected, we believe we can maintain the vast majority of journalist jobs and sustain front line reporter resource in particular.”

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