Johnston Press: Administration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 3:41 pm, 19th November 2018

As the House will know, on Friday Johnston Press confirmed that it was going into administration. Johnston Press has debts of £220 million that were due to be repaid in June next year. It operates, as the House knows, titles at local, regional and national level. It has explored a range of refinancing options over the past 18 months, including a debt-for-equity swap with bondholders. In October, it entered into a formal sales process, but no suitable buyer was found. On Saturday, it was announced that the newspapers and assets owned by Johnston Press would be acquired by JPI Media, a new consortium established of Johnston Press creditors. JPI Media has said that the operation of the newspapers and websites will continue. It has also said that the debt will be reduced to £85 million, repayable by the end of 2023, and that it will be injecting £35 million into the company to help it operate, including supporting the transition to digital. It has also released a statement saying that the situation will have an impact on employees and pension holders on the defined pension scheme, and that it is working through what this will mean for about 250 current members of staff who are impacted. The Pension Protection Fund has been notified. As the House knows, this is a fund set up by the Government to provide pension benefits to members of defined-benefit schemes whose sponsoring employers have become insolvent. The PPF, with the assistance of the trustees of the scheme, will assess whether the scheme needs to enter the PPF.

Over the weekend, I spoke to David King, formerly the chief executive of Johnston Press and now the chief executive of JPI Media, and today I spoke to its head director. They set out that they believed this move was the best course of action for the long-term future of their staff and titles and that the only alternative would have been liquidation and redundancies. Like Members from across the House, I am committed to a vibrant and free press. Johnston Press, with more than 200 titles and 2,000 staff serving communities across the UK, plays a significant part in that—three of these titles serve my constituency. Its future sustainability is therefore very important to us all.

My deepest sympathies are with anyone who is facing uncertainty as a result of the changes. However, it is important to note that the takeover may come under the rules as set out in the Enterprise Act 2002. Under that legislation, where it appears that a relevant merger or takeover situation arises, the Secretary of State can consider, in a quasi-judicial capacity, whether it raises media public-interest considerations. As such, I am sure that the House will understand that at this stage I will not set out any views on the impact of this specific transaction.

What is clear is that this is an example of the challenges faced by the newspaper industry more broadly and in particular of the challenges faced by local papers. Such papers help to bring together local voices and shine a light on important local issues, in communities, courtrooms and council chambers. It is clear, though, that such papers have to make difficult decisions to try to adapt to the changing market. At this challenging time for print journalism, we are working hard to ensure its sustainability. In March, we launched an independent review, chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross. It will look into how the production and distribution of high-quality journalism can be sustained a changing market, with a particular focus on the online space. Dame Frances’s report and recommendations will be published early next year. Next week, the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries will host an open session with Dame Frances, so that Members of this House and of the other place can share their views on these important issues.

At national and local levels, a press that can hold the powerful to account remains an essential component of our democracy. That is what this Government are working to support.