76 jobs at risk as Express & Star publisher moves to overnight printing

The publisher of Britain's biggest selling regional daily newspaper, the Express & Star, has announced a restructure that could result in 76 jobs being lost.

Midland News Association, which also publishes the Shropshire Star, is considering moving its titles from day-time to overnight printing and it has been indicated the company will make a "significant investment to strengthen the digital operation".

Announcing plans to cut jobs across all departments, managing director Phil Inman said the publisher would be seeking voluntary severance, but that "compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out".

The restructure could see 12 editorial jobs lost, as well as eight in print/production, 12 in advertising, 21 in circulation, 12 in transport, nine in services and two in finance.

The National Union of Journalists said the announcement had come as a "great shock". An NUJ organiser for the area said the job losses would prove a "huge blow" for the quality of the newspapers' journalism.

In a letter sent to staff, Inman said: "[We] must be structured to create a sustainable business for the future. This process is essential to ensure that we make the most of the opportunities ahead. The results of the staff surveys to date showed many colleagues shared the management team's desire to see a Group which can meet the changing needs of readers and advertising clients.

"The Express & Star and Shropshire Newspapers have strong futures where they will remain the leading publishers in their markets but we must consider new ways of operating that better [to] reflect the change in people's lives. This will necessitate significant investment to strengthen the digital operation."

He added: "Our businesses must run as efficiently as possible and in order to do that the MNA Group is proposing a series of changes throughout the businesses.

"We prize the loyalty of colleagues but to better position the businesses to serve our print and digital audiences, a reduction in staff will be necessary.

"It is hoped that as much of this reduction as possible can be achieved through voluntary severance but compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out. "

He said the proposed method of carrying out redundancies would be collective consultation until 28 May. "Volunteers for redundancy will be invited throughout the whole process. Provisional selections will commence from 15 May, subject to the collective consultation. It is anticipated that individual consultation will be completed as soon as possible," he said.

Inman said the move to overnight publication would require "changes to the terms and conditions of employment" of news editors, sub-editors, print production staff and drivers, all of whom would have altered working hours.

He added: "It is hoped that these proposed changes can be agreed with the employees concerned rather than having to go through a formal process of terminating employment and offering to re-engage on new terms and conditions."

A company press release said: "The MNA is looking to increase its digital operation to meet the needs of its rapidly growing online audience, enhancing revenues in the process.

"Colleagues are being consulted on plans to restructure the company, which could see the number of posts across all departments reduced by 76 positions. Other proposals being considered include moving the daily titles to overnight production."

An MNA spokesman said: "Staff consultation has begun on proposals which will ensure the MNA is better positioned to best serve our print and digital audiences.

"The proposals being considered will shape a strong future for the MNA, where it remains the leading publisher in its markets."

According to ABC figures from December, the Express & Star has an average circulation of 82,448, while the Shropshire Star's is 39,168.

Chris Morley, Northern and Midlands organiser of the NUJ, said: “There is great shock at the timing of this announcement, although our members had been fearful something like this was not far away.

"This is a huge blow, not just in the numbers of people who may lose their jobs but also to quality journalism.

"The two daily papers in Wolverhampton and Shropshire have been the lonely standard bearers for same-day regional newspaper news and sport and had been very successful in that over many years. But repeated deep cuts to editorial numbers have critically weakened what they have been able to offer readers by badly overstretching staff."

He added: “The NUJ calls on the company to open talks with unions to find a sustainable way forward. This must be done in a way staff are reassured that directors will not take the discredited path to a cycle of cuts to the core business and then more cuts that drives away still yet more readers and advertisers.

"Any change from same-day publication will require major changes to the way staff work. If the proposals are to be implemented, to work they need to be with the agreement of staff – not by the company putting a gun to employees’ heads.”

The union is now in discussion with the chapeIs involved.

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