The threat of a strike continues to hang over the Telegraph Group as the billionaire Barclay brothers battle to take control of its titles.
With no improvement yet on the management’s 3 per cent pay offer, ballot papers will go out to NUJ members on Monday.
The question of ownership is still not decided, but sources at the papers said the Barclays were considered “far from the worst option” among those lining up to bid for the company.
Senior staff are understood to have threatened to walk out if Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond had bought the group.
A former editor of the Barclaysowned European told Press Gazette this week that journalists had nothing to fear from their prospective new proprietors.
Charles Garside said: “This is the best news that the Telegraph could have had for a long time. I think it’s the most amazing coup. I found them charming people to deal with and extremely supportive in many ways.”
He suggested that, if the Barclays’ bid succeeded, they would keep the current senior management team in place. He added: “That’s been their way of operating in the past.”
The Barclays went on the record this week to say they don’t interfere with their newspapers but let their editors reflect the views of their readers.
Lord Black agreed on Saturday to sell his stake in newspaper publisher Hollinger International to the Barclays in a deal valued at £259m.
The sale has yet to clear a number of legal and regulatory hurdles.
Charlie Methven, NUJ FoC at the papers, said: “Whatever new owner takes over, they will have to realise that journalists don’t feel they have been adequately rewarded for their efforts. The people who have been making this newspaper a lot of money are not the New York bankers and shareholders but the journalists.”
Staff feel particularly aggrieved that the contentious multimillion dollar payments were taken by Black in 2001 – the year he froze pay at the Telegraph Group.
At national level, the NUJ has expressed concern about the role Andrew Neil could have in the new regime. The former Sunday Times editor is editor-in-chief of the Barclays’ current newspaper interests.
NUJ newspapers organiser Barry Fitzpatrick said: “We are not impressed by Andrew Neil. His track record of cost-cutting and failing to bring staff with him does not bode well for future relationships.”
Telegraph editorial director Kim Fletcher said: “While this is playing out in the US and Canada all we can do is continue to produce The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator in the best possible way.”
Journalists at Express Newspapers are also set to ballot on strike action. Staff on the Daily Star and Daily and Sunday Express have rejected a management pay offer of 3 per cent.
WHY BLACK HAD TO SELL HIS EMPIRE
The unravelling of the complex business network by which Lord Black controlled the Telegraph Group began in November when Hollinger International announced his “retirement” as chairman.
This coincided with results of an investigation which alleged Black and other executives received £19m in unauthorised “non-compete” payments between 1999 and 2001.
Until Saturday, the press baron remained chairman of Telegraph Group and executive chairman of Hollinger International. He was sacked by the board as a £111m lawsuit was filed by the company against Black, Hollinger Inc and Black’s private management company, Ravelston.
Hours after the dismissal he concluded a deal with the Barclays to sell Hollinger Inc for £259m.
Hollinger Inc is the holding company through which Black controlled Hollinger International.
Although Hollinger Inc owns only 30 per cent of Hollinger International – it controls the company because it has 73 per cent of the voting rights.
The Barclay brothers are understood to believe these voting rights will pass on with the sale.
The Barclays made their first foray into newspaper publishing in 1992 when they took over The European.
It closed in 1999 after reportedly losing £74m and its circulation slumped from 150,000 to 50,000.
Their company Press Holdings also owns The Scotsman, The Business and, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News.
By Dominic Ponsford