NUJ rejects Newsquest’s “flawed assessment” accusation on LDRs and challenges the company over transparency  

  • 03 Aug 2023

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has repeated its claim that thousands of pounds in BBC licence fee payer funding to provide Local Democracy Reporters (LDRs) is being retained by Newsquest rather than supporting a liveable wage for the job. The NUJ refutes the publisher’s accusation that calculations from a response by the BBC to a Freedom of Information request are a ‘flawed assessment’ that do not consider “real costs of hiring.”   

On 1 August, the NUJ revealed Newsquest was retaining more than £10,000 per LDR role as ‘business costs’ after normal employment costs including salaries, employer National Insurance and pension contributions had been counted.

The union acknowledges that there are some, limited other expenses associated with each role such as mileage to cover jobs, the provision of kit and initial one-off costs such as recruitment but believes the £10,000-plus ‘headroom’ is unfairly swallowed up in the financial accounts.    

The NUJ is therefore dismayed by Newsquest’s comments that the union has made a “flawed assessment”. It challenges the company to explain its reasons for leaving some experienced LDRs struggling financially on the £24,000 BBC set minimum when at least one other major publisher pays minimum salaries of £31,200 for all its LDRs.  

Although BBC rules state any difference between employment costs and funding is “retained by the supplier”, the NUJ has questioned why Newsquest has chosen not to use large sums of BBC licence fee payer funding to provide pay that better matches the skilled job its LDRs do against the backdrop of the worst cost of living crisis in 40 years.  

The union is surprised at Newsquest's reference to an "Employer Tax" in addition to National Insurance when referring to its business costs and would welcome clarity from the company on that. The NUJ calculates that the combined cost of employer National Insurance and pension contributions for a regional LDR on the £24,000 minimum is approximately £2,700 per role. 

Journalists at the publisher have reported to the union that a digital bonus scheme is virtually impossible for them to trigger due to its high targets and they do not see it as a realistic or fair way of being rewarded for their work even if it paid out. And while reporters receive laptops as noted in the NUJ’s release earlier this week, several journalists have reported to the union that they are poor quality and appear to have been recycled from within the business.   

In addition, LDRs at Newsquest receive only 30p a mile to use their own cars to cover jobs – a third lower than the 45p advisory mileage rate set by HMRC and generally accepted as the rate within the industry. 

Chris Morley, Northern & Midlands Senior organiser, said:

“It is disappointing to see Newsquest failing to address the real issues which are paying liveable wages in exceptional times and accountability for what is effectively public money. It appears to be trying to muddy the waters on the poor pay it gives to its journalists doing an amazing job to the benefit of our democratic structures and communities.   

“It is simply not being transparent over how, as a commercial organisation, it is spending precious BBC licence fee payers’ money but leaving its LDRs to survive on poor pay.   

“We know that there is at least a £10,000-plus gap between the normal employment costs of a regional LDR on the minimum £24,000 salary and associated employer National Insurance and pension contributions as against the £37,734 the company is being funded by the BBC per role.   

“We are not trying to pick holes in the LDR scheme as it has proved very successful due to the hard work and diligence of the reporters. But we do question why experienced and skilled journalists are not being properly valued in their pay when it seems obvious there is plenty of scope for Newsquest not to be a miserly outlier among the LDR employing companies.   

“Given what we now know, thanks to a Freedom of Information request, we would suggest every successful applicant for a Newsquest LDR role does an Oliver and asks for more.”     

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