Grim reading at Johnston as profits fall

NEWSPAPER publisher Johnston Press only needs to focus on repaying around a third of its £370m debt pile, according to outgoing chief executive John Fry.

The group, which announced a slump in first-half pre-tax profits, said it would continue to cut costs by simplifying processes and consolidating back-office functions as the economic outlook remained grim and the government slashed advertising.

Fry told City A.M: “I think the company will always have a certain level of debt… maybe £200m or £250m debt could be manageable.”

Yesterday the firm launched a partnership with property website Zoopla and an online vouchers scheme with technology company Nimble.

Fry brushed aside staff criticism of content management systems introduced at the Edinburgh-group’s titles, which include The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post, saying the cost-cutting changes were essential.

“Most of the negative feedback was in the transition [period]. It has been very well received.”

The firm’s total first-half revenue fell 7.5 per cent to £191.8m while operating profit before non-recurring items fell 17.6 per cent to £33.3m.

Pre-tax profit fell to £13.8m, compared to £26.1m last year, while net debt was cut £16m to £370.7m.