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Britain's greediest millionaire gets even richer, but staff still lose out

© Tom Halliday

23 September 2015

As latest figures show Richard Desmond’s profits have soared, with executives pocketing bumper bonuses, staff at his newspapers are asking him to justify why he has not given them a pay rise in eight years.

Northern & Shell, the parent company of the Daily and Sunday Express and Star newspapers and magazines including OK!, reported an almost tenfold increase in pre-tax profits year on year to £333.7m in 2014.

A spokesman for the Express Newspapers NUJ chapel said:

"This is the culmination of 15 years of pillage of our company by Britain's greediest billionaire.

"The workforce at our three sites in London, Glasgow, and Broughton are outraged by the sheer greed of Richard Desmond and his cronies. Even very senior executives on our four titles have been spitting blood after seeing these figures. Neither they nor the rest of the staff have had even a cost of living rise since April 2008. As a consequence, most of us are around 20 per cent worse off. Experienced journalists with years of service on national newspapers are having to remortgage or downsize just to pay the bills.

"Morale, as a consequence, has plumbed new depths after the release of these accounts. We have been pinning our hopes on Trinity Mirror coming into buy our titles but the signs are that's not going to happen now and we are stuck with Richard Desmond, the unacceptable face of British business in the 21st century."

Desmond's fortunes were boosted by the sale of Channel 5 to MTV-owner Viacom for £463m, with Northern & Shell making a profit of the sale of £359m. His senior executives benefited by almost £20m.

Joint managing directors, Stan Myerson and Martin Ellice, financial director, Robert Sanderson, and group editorial director, Paul Ashford, were paid a combined £18.3m last year. The unnamed highest paid director received £4.6m. The accounts showed Desmond was paid £795,000 last year for his role as chairman.

Express Newspapers reported a pre-tax profits drop of £30.4m to just £812,000 year on year, as total revenues fell from £204.8m to £196.9m year on year.

The NUJ chapel said:

"The figures appear to show that Desmond and his fellow directors took £100m out of the company in one year. That is on top of the £500m we believe Desmond has taken out of the four national newspaper titles since he bought the company. What really grates is these figures directly contradict statements made by Desmond and Paul Ashford. On September 2, Desmond told an audience at the JW3 Jewish cultural centre in London that he only paid himself £50,000 a year. That's quite a big difference from £90 million.

"Paul Ashford told us during negotiations over the company's plans to make one-third of the workforce redundant that neither he nor anybody else "upstairs" had received any pay increase or bonuses after the sale of Channel 5. Yet the accounts show that pay-outs to directors soared from £1.9m in 2013 to £18.3m last year and the highest-paid director went from £589,000 to £4.6m.

"In a series of interviews, Desmond has cited normal business costs and declining revenues from print as his reason for refusing to give the rest of the staff pay rises. In fact, we understand that by the end of 2014 the two Express and two Star titles were on course to make between £12m and £15m profit. Desmond has also claimed on several occasions that the average salary at Express Newspapers is £70,000.
"On some occasions he has qualified it and said £50,000, £60,000, £70,000. In fact, the company told us when redundancy negotiations began last year that the average salary was £45,000. Since then it has refused to give us new figures, in breach of normal undertakings, but we estimate the average salary here is close to the London average for all industries of £41,000."

During the event to plug his book at the JW3 Jewish cultural centre, held by the Jewish Chronicle, Desmond said he had to pay for a new printing works, the cost of redundancies and for staff pensions. He said: "It's a market, if they don't like it, they can go elsewhere."

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

"These figures expose the stark, simple unfairness of pay at Northern & Shell. Company directors are lining their pockets at the expense of staff who have holes in theirs. After eight years without a pay increase people are being forced to consider drastic steps, such as selling their homes, simply for the privilege of continuing to work for a company that is not interested in investment or quality journalism, but only in ownership for political ends."

Richard Desmond and executives enjoy £100m bonanza after Channel 5 sale