Newsquest journalism cuts are devastating for UK's local news provision
24 March 2020
Newsquest, one of the biggest media companies providing local news in the UK, has today announced a series of cuts affecting staff.
The company has announced it intends to take advantage of the government's coronavirus job retention scheme and put a significant number of employees on leave.
Staff have been told they will be notified in the next two days if their role has been targeted.
The company have not ruled out expanding the numbers to include more staff at a later date.
Newsquest has also announced a pay cut for all staff. From the start of April 2020, Newsquest intends to implement a 15 per cent cut on wages above £18,000 and pro-rata for those working part time.
In addition, senior managers at the company, who currently get to retain their jobs, will be required to take two weeks of unpaid leave and their existing bonus scheme will temporarily cease to accrue from April 2020.
Finally the company said they are still pursuing other areas where they can further cut costs.
Last week the NUJ attended national meetings with government and media industry representatives, and the union called on the government to link any financial support offered to businesses to maintaining staffing levels. From the outset the NUJ has feared that some media companies may take the opportunity to cut back on jobs.
The Newsquest announcement is a massive and devastating blow for staff who have been working tirelessly to ensure that communities across the UK have access to quality news and journalism about the coronavirus. There is already a severe lack of staff working at Newsquest and this has placed a significant pressure on journalist's health and personal lives. This existing pressure has intensified considerably during the current global health crisis.
The drastic nature of Newsquest's actions this week implies the company is responding with a knee-jerk reaction to initial indications of a temporary reduction in its revenue.
There has been no engagement or consultation with the NUJ before the cuts announcement was made.
Newsquest CEO, Henry Faure Walker, says the company "will implement" a pay reduction but the union believes this could be a breach of contract and could prove impossible for Newsquest to impose.
The company intends to use the emergency public funds to pay out 80 per cent of each staff member's wages. The union believes this breaches the spirit of the scheme whereby the employer has a moral obligation to meet the remaining 20 per cent - unless the company can prove it absolutely cannot afford to do so. Newsquest sends tens of millions of pounds of annual profits to its American shareholders.
Newsquest already has a profit margin typically above 20 per cent, this is far higher than most UK companies. In such precarious times, the company should lower its expectations to make this level of profit in the short term and focus on supporting staff and local communities by providing essential quality journalism.
The company's announcement has been silent on the Local Democracy Reporter Scheme and its Facebook reporters - it is not clear whether the same cuts will apply to these staff. The union is concerned the company may try to put these journalists into the emergency job retention scheme or cut their pay - while also receiving public funding via the BBC.
Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ national coordinator, said:
"Clearly there are massive changes around us brought on by the crisis enveloping the world as a result of Covid-19. But Newsquest’s harsh and knee-jerk response came without warning to staff struggling with their important work in incredibly difficult circumstances.
"The reaction of NUJ members has been strong already and we will be holding a virtual meeting of Newsquest reps this week to determine a fuller response. Newsquest’s poor reputation on pay is already widely known, so seeking to hack back wages still further is a real blow when the company’s move to remote working has shifted increased costs on to members.
"If the company was so sure it had to take these actions because it had no other choice, it would surely be ready to engage with all its stakeholders, including the unions. It feels very much like the company is out of step with the spirit of the times."
Fed Bedendo, Newsquest NUJ group chapel MoC, 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."