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Latest cull has made Newsquest’s flagship northern newspaper “unsafe for staff”

© red engine

26 July 2018

Management at Newsquest’s Northern Echo, which faces the loss of eight further posts, had already been warned by staff that the situation in editorial was at crisis point.

The latest cuts, and failure to fill a vacancy, represent a fifth (21 per cent) of the staff who produce the flagship Northern Echo and Darlington and Stockton Times, Durham Times and Advertiser Series.

The letter, sent on 12 July from the NUJ chapel, said: “We are currently seeking advice as to whether there has been any breach by the company of the Working Time Regulations or on health and safety grounds.

"To this end, we request copies of the risk assessment, which should have been carried out at the time of the three redundancies at the end of 2017, and following the withdrawal of freelance support.”

The letter was triggered by the management's decision to stop freelance cover.

Individuals have been known to start a 9am shift at 5.20am in order to get all the necessary tasks done to deadline. Staff have individually clocked up 100 hours in lieu in six months with no prospect of getting the time back.

Andy Richardson, the Echo’s editor who is to leave the paper next week, said in a message to staff: “There is a need to reduce costs and deliver efficiencies in Darlington, and as a result the company is proposing to restructure the editorial team. This would result in the four existing news reporting teams which cover Tees Valley, Durham, South West Durham and North Yorkshire to be reorganised into two teams: a North reporting team (with its own chief reporter) and a South reporting team (with its own chief reporter).”

The posts which are being lost in this latest round of cuts are news editor Durham, chief reporter Bishop Auckland, chief reporter Tees Valley, chief reporter North Yorkshire, regional reporter, business editor, features writer co-ordinator and special features co-ordinator.

Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland and a former chair of the NUJ’s Parliamentary Group, said she will write to Jeremy Wright, the new culture secretary, about the situation and journalism in general. The government has asked Dame Frances Cairncross to hold an inquiry into the sustainability of the UK’s press.

The staff are still waiting for a reply to their letter and the union believes their employment conditions will be unsafe for them and will inevitably have an impact on the service they can provide to readers.

Chris Morley, Northern & Midlands senior organiser, said:

“The chapel is deeply shocked that the Newsquest redundancy axe is swinging again in Darlington to lop off yet more jobs in a badly depleted newsroom just a matter of months since the last time – and the arbitrary axe of significant freelance cover in editorial production.
“The aggravating and reckless nature of this latest proposed cull of about a fifth of remaining jobs is that the chapel warned in no uncertain terms just weeks ago that staffing levels were at intolerable levels and demanded to see the risk assessments the company was required to produce under health and safety legislation.
 “We know of individuals coming in to start their shift at 5.20am when it was notionally 9am to try to get all the necessary tasks done to deadline.
 “Members’ genuine concerns on this have been met first with silence and then body-blow news of more savage cuts. The conditions our members report are simply not sustainable for people to endure and, I believe, they are now potentially unsafe.
 “Newsquest will again soon be publishing its annual report showing once again it is a profitable company exporting millions of pounds to go into US shareholders’ pockets. UK management must stick up for their employees and not put health at risk through an uncaring pursuit of unsustainable levels of profit to trigger their fat bonuses.”

Tags: , local newspapers, local news matters, newsquest, Northern Echo, Darlington and Stockton Times, Durham Times, helen goodman, cairncross review, frances cairncross, darlington, durham, bishop auckland