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March 24, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:04am

Newsquest puts staff on furlough and cuts wages to ‘minimise job losses’ during pandemic

By Freddy Mayhew

Newsquest is placing a “significant number” of its staff on furlough while all those who remain will face a wage cut in action to “minimise wider job losses” during the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

The local news publisher will go further than the Government’s emergency job retention scheme, which is capped at £30,000, and pay 80 per cent of the total salary for all furloughed staff.

It is understood only about ten per cent of Newsquest’s 650 editorial staff will be put on furlough, with advertising staff mainly affected.

In an email to staff, seen by Press Gazette, Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure Walker said putting staff on furlough allows the local news publisher “to respond to the sharp downturn in activity” during the crisis

Advertising and print sales have been hit hard as people follow official advice to stay at home and avoid non-essential contact or travel.

While online traffic has been booming across all news websites, Newsquest still relies on print for 60 per cent of its total revenues.

Faure Walker also announced that all staff not on forced leave would face a 15 per cent wage cut on the amount they earn above £18,000 from 1 April, including senior managers and part-time employees.

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For example, someone on a £22,000 annual salary will lose 15 per cent of £4,000 – the amount they earn above the £18,000 threshold.

Senior managers have also been told to take two weeks of unpaid leave, although editors are largely exempt.

Faure Walker has confirmed his own salary will be affected.

He told staff: “As you are all aware, the Coronavirus is having a profound impact on day to day living and business activity across the UK and across the world.

“Our first steps have been focused on keeping our employees as safe as possible, moving to remote working, social distancing and associated policies throughout the business.

“We now have to turn our attention to the economic impact on our business. Despite the sterling efforts of our teams, we are seeing very significant declines in our revenue, particularly from advertising, as many of our customers cancel or put their plans on hold.

“Standing still is therefore not an option.

“In order to ensure that we weather this storm, we are taking a number of decisive actions that will impact all of us.

“We do not take these actions lightly, but they will ensure that we come out strong on the other side of this, and minimise wider job losses.”

He added: “I appreciate that these actions are unsettling, but we believe they are necessary to cope with this extraordinary situation.

“We will get through this and with your help, come out stronger on the other side.”

Newsquest may suspend free newspapers to save costs, but will continue to produce paid-for newspapers and websites “even if unprofitable” given the “essential role that they play in providing our communities with trusted news and information at this critical time”.

Newsquest publishes some 200 local news and magazine brands, including 22 daily titles such as The Herald in Scotland, Carlisle News and Star, Northern Echo, Brighton Argus and the York Press.

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…

“It feels very much like the company is out of step with the spirit of the times.”

From today, Newsquest has teamed up with local retailers to deliver its newspapers to older people in isolation for free.

Three out of four Press Gazette readers said the Covid-19 crisis presents a threat their income. Some 1,066 readers responded to a website poll on Press Gazette between 16 and 24 March.

Read all Press Gazette’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and the news industry here

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