Cost cuts drive profit growth at regional press group Archant as it downplays talk of 'green shoots'

Regional media group Archant has reported operating profit up 80.9 per cent year on year in the first half of 2013 to £3.5m.

This followed cost cutting of £4.5m, the group said, and was on turnover down 4.7 per cent to £63.3m. Group operating profit after exceptional items and amortization was £0.6m, compared with a loss of £0.9m in the same period a year ago.

Archant is the UK’s seventh biggest regional newspaper publisher with 65 titles and is privately owned. Its biggest titles are in Archant Anglia which includes the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News. Archant Lifestyle includes a number of specialist and county lifestyle magazines.

Chairman Richard Jewson said: “Whilst there is some evidence of a strengthening economy we have seen little of this in the consumer markets which we serve.

“Performance of our Anglia and Lifestyle businesses was relatively strong with declines of less than 3 per cent whilst trading in London, where our magazines face a significant increase in competition, was more challenging. Digital revenues in all divisions continued to grow, with an overall increase of 18 per cent on the same period last year.”

Archant revealed that it continues to be in discussions with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs over tax avoidance measures dating back 10 years which could now cost it £13m.

The possible liability for Archant was revealed last year after Iliffe News and Media lost a case at a tax tribunal over tacitcs to conceal bumper profits in the years 2003-2005. The Iliffe scheme involved  charging subsidiary local newspaper companies hefty charges for renting their mastheads.

Jewson said the HMRC dispute involves  “complex matters of interpretation and judgement” and the company is “continuing to engage in correspondence with them and we expect this to continue in the coming months”.

He said: “There is much comment that green shoots of recovery are becoming visible. As yet we see little evidence that this is building confidence amongst our customers. Business improvement will continue to take place by our own efforts, as past initiatives become established, and new ones are introduced. We will continue to pursue the strategies set out to transform the business and we anticipate the Group performance for the full year will be in line with target and well ahead of 2012.”

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