Johnston Press CEO Ashley Highfield

Johnston Press CEO Ashley Highfield

Staff down, sales down, advertising revenue down but profits up for Johnston Press. The regional news publisher this morning published its annual report which reveals the scale of the changes which have been happening at some of the best-known regional news titles including the Yorkshire Post and Lancashire Evening Post.

The publisher has been involved in a series of controversial cost-cutting measures – including cutting staff photographers and attempting to change mileage rates – and today the extent of the staff reductions is revealed for the first time – 609 jobs lost.

The company introduced an enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme for staff last autumn in a bid to help pay down its £320m debt.

The results show underlying profits at the group rose 2.5pc over the year to stand at £54.3m, and that net debt fell by £17.3m to stand at £320m. It’s the first increase in underlying operating profit for seven years.

Total advertising revenues were down 6.4pc during the year at 181.7m, but while print advertising revenues fell 9.5pc, digital advertising revenues rose 19.4pc to stand at 24.6m.
Revenue from newspaper sales was down 2.1pc from 89.6m in 2012 to 87.7m.

In a statement this morning, chief executive, Ashley Highfield, said they were delighted to see a return to underlying operating profit growth for the first time in seven years.

“Our digital growth remains strong, with significantly increasing audiences coming to our websites in 2013 and into 2014.  Along with slowing declines in print advertising revenues, and a stable circulation revenue decline rate, these are clear indications of good progress during the year in the implementation of our strategy for growth.

“During the year we completed the re-launch of our websites and our print titles, and took the first steps to re-invent community newspapers with significantly higher levels of user generated content.”

Responding to the publication of the annual results, the share price (at the point this article was published) had fallen 3.75% to 23p.

Update: This afternoon, the National Union of Journalists criticised the company and claimed the staff cuts added up to 1,600 jobs over a two year period.

The NUJ group chapel said:

“The continuing strangulation of the company through debt and interest charges is coming at a high cost for Johnston Press staff. We now know the sheer scale of the numbers who have left the company. Journalists have seen colleagues leaving in droves and are facing increased workloads alongside cuts to terms and conditions. That is not a sustainable situation.”

Read the full statement of results here.