Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield has been told by the National Union of Journalists he should “forgo” his £645,000 bonus.
The regional publisher's annual report, released yesterday, revealed that Highfield received a total remuneration of £1.65m in 2014. His total pay was £592,000 in 2013 and £702,000 in 2012.
And Johnston Press announced that the executive is to be given a 7.5 per cent pay rise, taking his salary from £404,000 to £430,000.
Highfield's pay for 2014 comprised: salary (£404,000), benefits (£11,000), annual bonuses (£483,000), long-term incentives (£645,000) and pension (£106,000).
Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said that this £26,000 increase is greater than the salaries of some Johnston Press weekly news editors.
Dave King, Johnston Press's chief financial officer, meanwhile, was paid a total of £565,000 in 2014. Overall, Highfield, King and six non-executive directors were paid £2,566,000 in 2014.
In total, Johnston Press staff remuneration was £108m in 2014, down from £131m in 2013. The publisher said this 18 per cent reduction could be explained by "a fall in headcount and a reduction in redundancy costs".
The results also showed that the company's statutory loss before tax was £23.9m. Its underlying operating profits were up 2.8 per cent year on year to £55.5m on turnover of £265.9m (down 4.4 per cent).
Advertising revenue was £165.7m in 2014, down 4.7 per cent from £173.9m. The results showed that while underlying digital revenue was up 20 per cent to £28.8m, print advertising was down 8.7 per cent, from £149.9m to £136.9m.
The NUJ has called on directors of the businesses to “give up their bonuses and invest the money in frontline editorial where it matters”.
A Johnston Press group chapel statement said that Highfield’s bonus “sends out the wrong message”. It said that Highfield “should be rewarded for his hard work” but added that “at a time of great uncertainty in the company [it] will surely breed resentment among JP staff”.
It said: "We welcome the company's aim to focus on quality journalism, but remain concerned about the continued cuts to staffing in some regions as part of its Newsroom of the Future programme. We are now appealing for the company to carry out a review of pay structures across the business with a view to our members being adequately rewarded for their efforts. We are sure the company appreciates that their hard work is directly linked to the successes revealed in the annual report. We would welcome the opportunity to sit down with the company and discuss some proposals on pay."
Following the release of the annual report, staff were yesterday informed of Highfield’s pay rise by chairman Ian Russell.
An email said: “As we have created more of a culture of reward for performance, an increasing number of our teams across the business are rewarded well for their specific and team contributions.
“In that context, and in line with their own demanding specific targets, Ashley Highfield and David King have received remuneration, triggered by the strong performance of the business.
“Following three years with no pay rise, the Remuneration Committee has awarded Ashley a pay rise of 7.5 per cent, broadly consistent with pay awards across the company in that time period. “
Earlier this month, a Johnston Press staff survey – seen by Press Gazette – revealed that fewer than half of staff would recommend the company "as a good place to work". Some 56 per cent of those surveyed said they felt they "get recognition for a job well done".