Employees swoop to take over West Highland Free Press

THE West Highland Free Press has become the UK’s only employee-owned newspaper.

It follows the paper’s ten staff buying the title – which was formed in 1972 – from its five founders, who include former Labour MP and British government minister, Brian Wilson.

The buy-out was supported by the Baxi Partnership, described as “the UK’s leading employee ownership investment vehicle”.

It was bought because the founders were looking to sell up.

When formed almost 40 years ago, it was a left-wing weekly, bearing the strapline, ‘An Tir, an Canan ‘sna Daoine – The Land, the Language, the People’. Its campaigning credentials include the Gaelic language, the environment and land reform.

Baxi was introduced to the newspaper’s employees by Co-operative Development Scotland which was set up three years ago to increase the contribution of co-operative enterprise to the Scottish economy.

In a statement, Paul Wood, managing director of the West Highland Publishing Company Ltd, said: “This will be the paper’s first change of ownership and despite what is happening in the wider industry [in terms of falling circulations and declining ad revenue] we are optimistic about the future.

“The Free Press has always been a breeding ground for talent and employee ownership will not only help us retain that talent but make even better use of it.

“Our readership is loyal and discerning and we think we can build on this base and further develop the business through the greater participation that employees will have in the way the business is run. Through our staff we are already identifying opportunities for developing content, utilising new-media and developing a news agency side to the business.

“Having our futures in our own hands would not have been possible without the assistance of Baxi. Traditional routes of finance, such as the bank, were not open to us, so, over 13 months, Baxi brought together the financial and support institutions to back us and then worked with the staff to give them the confidence to face the challenges and opportunities that running your own business brings.”

Wilson welcomed the purchase.

“We wanted the paper to remain independent while offering a great opportunity to the employees who have served it loyally,” he said. “I am sure that the Free Press will continue to flourish on the basis of quality journalism, service to the community and sound commercial management”.

The paper’s editor, Ian McCormack, has been in post for 33 years.

He told allmediascotland.com:”The shareholders were wanting to pull back their involvement and we didn’t want the paper to fall into the hands of some anonymous, unaccountable group that might have kept it going as a satellite operation with one or two staff.”

No details are being made public as to how much the buy-out has cost.

The West Highland Free Press is a weekly paper, officially out on a Friday at a cover price of 65p – this week’s edition running to 40 pages. Its office is in Broadford, Isle of Skye.