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National World takes on Midlands dailies after buying family-owned publisher

Phil InmanRegional publisher National World has bought family-owned newspaper group the Midland News Association and its two historic daily titles in a deal said to be worth £11m.

Despite being hit by strike action and the need to make widespread editorial cutbacks, National World has announced a deal to take over the MNA, publisher of the Wolverhampton Express & Star and the Shropshire Star.

The newly-acquired titles also include a range of paid-for and free weeklies, farming and lifestyle magazines, and technology company Press Computer Systems Limited.

The move, which has  been condemned by the National Union of Journalists, follows a “difficult decision” by MNA owner the Claverley Group to exit the UK regional press industry

Claverley chief executive Phil Inman, pictured, said: “The Midland News Association, including iconic Express & Star and Shropshire Star brands, has been owned and managed by the Graham family for generations.

“Agreeing to sell was an extremely difficult decision for the shareholders, but after careful consideration, the shareholders concluded that a larger organisation was better placed to secure the future of the business.

“The sale of the MNA will result in Claverley Group exiting from regional newspaper publishing and as such, the sale of Press Computer Systems was a logical extension to the deal for both parties.

“Claverley Group will continue to diversify its business interests and is actively looking to add further acquisitions to the five businesses bought since 2018.”

However the NUJ, which is in dispute with National World over a 4.5pc pay offer to journalists, voiced its dismay at the acquisition.

National organiser Laura Davison said: “Members are stunned at National World’s actions as they shun discussions with the NUJ on improved pay for members.

“Paying millions for new titles as existing journalists at the company share the impact of financial difficulties shows a blatant disregard for the value of its staff.

“It is clear National World’s priorities lay far from improving journalists’ pay and retention – reps will meet early next week to discuss today’s news alongside next steps in the campaign.” 

National World says the move, which brings the company’s investment in buying other businesses to £14m, will increase its daily newspaper sales by around 40pc.

The company currently owns some West Midlands titles, although these are based in Warwickshire, further east than the MNA’s traditional Black Country and Shropshire heartlands.

The deal comes after a summer of editorial cuts at National World, which affected around 50 journalists, while the group is still locked in a pay dispute with National Union of Journalists members that resulted in three days of strike action this month.

Other recent acquisitions by the company include the Rotherham Advertiser and business publisher Insider Media.

National World chairman David Montgomery said: “These historic and premium brands will strengthen our footprint, improving our Midlands and national rankings in UK media.

“Our innovations in TV and video, specialist content and our move to greater automation, will enhance the future performance of these new additions to the group.

“The greater scale will help underpin our accelerating transition to a multi-platform content business, focused on creative talent.

“We continue to re-train and re-equip both editorial and commercial staff to serve all platforms – print, online, TV and video, events, business information and e-commerce.”