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Newsquest: Time to stop stone-walling over pension fund deficit

Imagine what would happen if the following imaginary scenario were to pass.

Scottish Power, one of the biggest employers in Glasgow, reveals that it is to close its final salary pension scheme thereby depriving thousands of staff of the retirement income they had been promised and were relying on.

A journalist from Newsquest's flagship daily, the Evening Times, asks Scottish Power for a quote about this important matter of public interest. The press office refuses to even dignify the inquiry with a response - even though they are given two days to do so.

The result?

The Evening Times, a punchy tabloid with a reputation for exposing the antics of organised criminals, would probably stick a photo of the company's chief executive on the front page, superimpose a dartboard on it and invite readers to do the rest.

Yet Newsquest itself has declined to pass any public comment at all, or even answer the phone to Press Gazette or the National Union of Journalists, when it comes to questions about its own proposals to end final salary benefits for staff who have already signed up to its scheme.

Over the last two days, Press Gazette has attempted to put questions to chief executive Paul Davidson - only to be told that he is not available and that no-one else can deal with our enquiries.

This is the UK's second biggest regional newspaper publisher, which employs more than 5,000 people. It would not expect its own journalists to accept such a response if they were investigating one of the companies they report on.

The last accounts for Gannett UK (Newsquest is a division of US publishing giant Gannett) reveal that the highest paid director (who we assume is Davidson) was paid £501,234 in 2008, with payments into his pension pot of £38,536 which leave him set to receive a salary on retirement of £165,677 a year.

Part of the reason chief executives get paid the big bucks is because they have to take the public heat when things go awry in their organisations.

It seems reasonable that Davidson should now provide some explanation of why the final salary pension fund deficit at his company has expanded from £65m three years ago to £123m today - thereby depriving many not particularly well-paid journalists of the one perk they thought they could count on, a decent pension.

The NUJ suggests that the shortfall in funding needed to pay out promised benefits may have been increased by an ill-advised hedge fund investment in 2008.

At the moment we have no way of knowing if this is the case, because no-one is answering any questions.


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