Scotsman Said to be at Centre of Bid Attempt

The Scotsman newspaper is reported to be at the centre of a proposed buy-out from a consortium of Scottish businesspeople.

Reported the Sunday Times Scotland, yesterday, three named individuals have held negotiations with the paper’s publishers, Johnston Press: Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, plus ‘Edinburgh financier’, Ben Thomson, and ‘property developer’, Mark Shaw.

The article goes on to suggest that there is a big gulf in the respective valuations of the paper – with ‘industry sources saying’ Johnston is holding out for about £40 million.

Four years ago, Johnston bought The Scotsman – along with sister titles, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News – for £160 million. On Friday, the publisher is issuing its interim results for the six months up to June 30 this year. At the end of last year, Johnston’s debt was £476.8 million, compared to £691.7 million 12 months previously.

Also claimed by the Sunday Times are ‘parallel discussions’ with the publishers of The Herald, ‘about a joint venture to pool resources’. It is not clear whether it is the consortium or Johnston Press who are doing this. If the latter, any ‘pooling of resources’ might mean editorial, since much of the Johnston Press ‘back-office’ operation is inextricably tied up with its large network of local newspapers, such as the Falkirk Herald, which is printed at the same Edinburgh works as The Scotsman.

The most recent set of sales figures, issued by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, had The Scotsman’s average net circulation during July at 45,080, versus 48,236 a year before.

The 6.5 per cent year-on-year drop contrasts markedly with double-digit drops that preceded recent sweeping editorial changes, including the appointment of Evening News editor, John McLellan, as Scotsman editor and editor-in-chief of all three titles – with Ian Stewart made SoS editor and Tom Little Evening News editor. Recent weeks have certainly seen a greater proportion of The Scotsman being taken up with news – as opposed to opinion, indexes and Q&As.

Like The Herald group – comprising also the Sunday Herald and Evening Times – The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday have merged their editorial and production systems, with resulting job losses. But its handling has managed to avoid the industrial relations strife and political condemnation other similar exercises have generated.

The Sunday Times goes on to say: “Several high-profile businessmen have been approached to join the consortium, which has the blessing of Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister. Thomson, the chairman of Noble Group, the boutique investment bank, is said to be arranging financing.”

It is not known if the consortium is interested in the Evening News. While its production and photographic functions have been merged with its sister titles, its news-gathering is still relatively autonomous. There has been some crossover in sport – with Evening News football writers filing for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday – but, otherwise, it's pretty much a stand-alone unit.

Read more, here.

Update, 10.30am: In a statement, Johnston Press told allmediascotland: “Johnston Press notes the press speculation regarding the potential disposal of The Scotsman. Whilst company policy is not to comment on such speculation, Johnston Press can confirm that the board does not have any disposal process underway in this regard.”

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