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Pay award for Johnston Press chief

Scotsman’s axeman handed £645,000 bonus

Ashley HighfieldAshley Highfield, the chief executive of Johnston Press, owner of the Scotsman titles and the Falkirk Herald, received a total pay and bonus package of £1.65 million last year including a £645,000 bonus.

His reward is more than three times the £592,000 he received a year earlier. It includes a pay rise of 7.5%.

Mr Highfield’s remuneration comes after a year of severe cutbacks and redundancies at the group’s 200+ titles in order to reduce overheads and trim the company’s interest bill on a £300 million debt.

It also follows a recent internal survey showing staff unwilling to recommend the company as a good place to work and resentful of the “massive bonuses” paid to the directors.

On its website, the fourth biggest newspaper publisher in the UK states that last year was a year of “transformation and success” following the completion of the refinancing, adding that it will “certainly be a year to remember”, a sentiment that may be shared for different reasons by the scores of journalists who have been laid off.

The company says on the website: “Johnston Press was hailed as one of the “most intriguing turnaround stories in the UK market” and the transition to digital continued apace with audiences across our news print and web products reaching 27.3 million.

“2014 will certainly be a year to remember – events across the country put our brands firmly in the spotlight. Our news and commercial teams rose to the challenge of delivering world-class content throughout the year.”

However, a recently published internal survey found that less than half of the company’s employees (48.9%) would recommend the company “as a good place to work”.

According to trade publication UK Press Gazette, the highest scoring of the statements in the survey were “I get satisfaction from the work that I do” (68.5%) and “My manager gives me help and support when I need it” (71.3%). Some 58& of those surveyed said they felt they “act in accordance with Johnston Press’s values”.

Press Gazette said it had seen an email sent by Mr Highfield in which he said that a score below 67% for any question “shows a level of dissatisfaction”.

The email goes on: “[I]t’s clear there is more to do. One of the standout figures here is the number of people who would recommend Johnston Press as a good place to work, and we need to push even harder to change this.”

Later in the email, he added: “On the plus side these results highlight that job satisfaction remains as strong as ever, reflecting the pride we take in delivering for our communities and customers.

“Encouragingly support from managers has scored highly and over 40% of teams demonstrated strong engagement levels, with scores in the 60s and above.”

However, a Johnston Press journalist described the results as “fairly appalling” and suggested they are “artificially inflated by responses to the question about our line managers.”

The journalist told Press Gazette. “My news editor and editor are excellent so I scored them highly, but they are operating in an impossible climate where it is impossible to replace staff, yet we have being told to produce the same content for the paper, and masses of more time-consuming content such as video for the website. It’s blood from a stone territory.”

The journalist, though, said they were positive about Highfield: “He has more vision for the company than the last couple of chief executives and his web-first idea may in time be seen to be correct – it’s certainly more sensible than stockpiling debt, à la Tim Bowdler.

“But a vision without resources is a day dream. If he invested just a modest amount in staff then maybe we’d be able to do a lot more of the digital stuff the latest company guru comes up with.”

The journalist also said there is “considerable resentment” within Johnston Press about the fact that while editorial staff don’t get pay rises, and reporters sometimes leave without being replaced, senior management are receiving “massive bonuses”.

A Johnston Press spokesperson told the Gazette: “Improving engagement levels remains a major focus for us, and we continue to provide opportunities for everyone to have their say on building a positive future for Johnston Press. We had our highest ever response rate this year, and take the findings seriously.

“As you would expect from any staff survey, there are areas we perform well in – and room for improvement in others.  We are currently rolling out an engagement programme to every member of staff in the business – and each person will play their part in shaping the way this business is run. This is a crucial year for JP as we build on the success of the past year and continue the transformation of the business.”



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