Newsquest to ask all staff to take unpaid leave

Regional newspaper publisher Newsquest is to ask all staff to take a week’s unpaid leave in a bid to cut costs, Press Gazette understands.

Management, including editors, have agreed to the leave – essentially a voluntary pay cut – and the company will ask rank and file to follow.

Newsquest employs 6,600 people, so the company could save millions of pounds. Its titles include The Northern Echo in Darlington, the Herald and Times group in Glasgow, and Brighton’s The Argus.

The move is unconfirmed, as chief executive Paul Davidson – the only Newsquest executive allowed to talk to the press – is out of the office until Friday.

The unpaid leave, known as “furloughing”, follows Newsquest telling staff in some areas its pay freeze, announced in December, will continue until next year.

It is expected to confirm the pay freeze, and the furlough, across all areas later this week.

Gannett, Newsquest’s parent company, introduced the move in the US in January.

In a Q&A to American staff following the announcement, – under the heading: “Does it affect everyone?” – Gannett management wrote: “Newsquest is taking other expense reduction measures, at this time.”

The Q&A added a furlough was the “fairest and the least damaging” way of cutting costs as revenues slumped.

Under the heading: “Won’t this compromise our ability to do our jobs, produce our products and satisfy our customers?” management responded: “We think another round of layoffs would impact our operations more.

“Furloughs, while a scheduling challenge, provide more flexibility for our businesses and provide more value for our customers.”

And, under the heading: “Does this mean there won’t be any layoffs this year?”, management replied: “The goal is to reduce the need for layoffs, but that decision entirely rests on what happens with revenues during the rest of the year.

“No final decision has been or will be made at this time.”

Newsquest job losses this year include 40 journalists taking voluntary redundancy at the Herald and Times group, seven redundancies announced at The Press in York, and four redundancies at The Argus in Brighton.

Those followed a wave of cutbacks in the final quarter of 2008, as the economic downturn intensified.

Last month, Gannett announced Newsquest recorded a 29.3 per cent year-on-year advertising revenue decline in the last quarter of the 2008. In the same period, classified revenues fell 35.3 per cent year on year.

In the final quarter of 2008, Gannett’s profit was $158m (£112m), down from $245.3m (£174m).

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