Highbury staff at risk as Future takeover collapses

By Alyson Fixter

Fears are growing for the jobs of nearly 1,000 staff at publisher
Highbury House after a £100m takeover deal with Future collapsed last
week.

Staff at the struggling firm, which is £64m in debt, are said to be
increasingly worried that no new buyer will appear for the company,
which publishes titles such as Front and Fast Car.

At Highbury
Bournemouth, where staff have just secured union recognition, NUJ reps
fear it might have come only in time to negotiate on redundancy deals
for 118 staff.

Mike Sherrington, NUJ magazines organiser, said:
“We achieved a major victory in securing recognition, but we’re now
incredibly concerned about the future of the company and our members.”

Highbury
management has issued abrief statement saying they will update the
market on their proposals for the company at the same time as they
release their financial results in the next few weeks.

Future
shelved its deal to buy Highbury last week after the Office of Fair
Trading (OFT) ordered an investigation into the proposed acquisition.

Future,
which owns 70 per cent of the UK games magazine market, including XBox
Magazine and PlayStation World, would have bumped this figure up to 95
per cent through the buyout.

The deal was announced two months
ago and was expected to go through without a hitch, until the OFT
decided to bring in industry watchdog the Competition Commission
because of concerns about the computer game magazines.

Future is understood to be shocked by the OFT’s decision, but is expected tocontinue with its major programme of expansion.

The
Highbury buyout would have put Future in the big league of magazine
publishers, making it the third biggest in the UK, behind IPC and Emap,
in terms of retail sales value.

The OFT has claimed the deal
would be bad for consumers of computer game magazines, but it is
thought both Future and Highbury believe this is not true because the
fast-moving nature of the games industry allows many launches.

In
a statement, the company said that “it would not be in the interests of
Future plc’s shareholders to pursue further a possible acquisition”.

In a leaked internal email, Future chief executive Greg Ingham said there was “no point in bleating” about the decision.

He added: “Although we’re surprised and disappointed, we move on.”

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