Former FT chief presents late bid for Scottish papers

Hill: #210m bid for SMG

A significant latecomer has appeared on the shortlist of four bidders for The Herald and its sister titles.

Former Financial Times group chief executive Stephen Hill, backed by venture capitalist Permira, would have a clear run to buy the SMG newspapers and magazines without a referral to the Competition Commission. But the joint bid is around £210m, according to The Sunday Herald (one of the papers up for auction), lower than the Barclay brothers’ offer of around £230m.

The shortlist of bidders is now down to Gannett/Newsquest, offering about £215m, Providence Equity/ Independent News & Media, again at £210m, Hill’s partnership and the Barclays. Archant, which was among the favourites two weeks ago, is out, as is the David Montgomery/3i bid.

Hill was on the board of FT owner Pearson before leaving last year to attempt to buy FT Business Magazines. The bid failed.

He is best remembered for his ruthless cost-cutting at the regional group Westminster Press, a subsidiary of Pearson, during the Nineties. Sir Anthony O’Reilly’s Independent News & Media and Providence is now considered a trade, rather than a financial, buyer and will need a referral, as will Newsquest and possibly the Barclays.

Newsquest is said to be anxious for a big buy, after losing the Regional Independent Media group to Johnston Press. The Barclays are still facing some stiff resistance in Scotland to their desire to own both Scottish and Sunday broadsheets.

60 MSPs out of the 107 eligible have signed an early day motion in the Scottish Parliament urging its executive to approach the UK Government to ensure any sale did not create a monopoly in the Scottish media.

Sunday Herald editor Andrew Jaspan wrote in his leader this week that the sale of the papers, which includes the Evening Times, Glasgow, has begun to spark public debate about media ownership and the need for a diversity of views in Scotland.

His paper’s independence was now threatened, he told readers, by the papers’ sale, adding: "Three of the bidders are expected to guarantee the future of the Herald newspapers. But the Barclay brothers will seek to combine publications and put them under the editorial control of Andrew Neil or whomever else they choose to propagate their views.

"In this paper we have highlighted the issues of press freedom and choice.  The only voice you will have read in Scotland on Sunday (a Barclays’ title)  is that of David Barclay professing commitment to Scotland from his home in Monte Carlo."  

By Jean Morgan

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