David Parkin on a company that lacks vision, the Domino effect and becoming a dealmaker

David Parkin on a company that lacks vision, the Domino effect and becoming a dealmaker

YOU may have missed it, but there is currently a battle raging around the future direction of regional newspaper publisher Johnston Press. The group, which owns the Yorkshire Post and the Scotsman, is the second largest publisher of local newspapers in the UK. And it is valued on the stock market at less than £14m. But should you be tempted to spend your Euromillions win on acquiring your own newspaper group then you will also be responsible for the £220m in debts that it currently owes. They are a legacy of previous management teams whose ambition was undimmed by the oncoming cloud of the internet which saw newspapers’ traditional revenue streams from car, property, display and classified advertising disappear onto the worldwide web. In response to this JP recruited Ashley Highfield as its chief executive six years ago. He was seen as something of a digital visionary having worked at the BBC and Microsoft. But working for a publicly subsidised broadcaster and a multi-national computer corporation didn’t equip Highfield with the skills to tackle the challenges that a 200-year-old publisher faced and he has resorted to doing what every other UK newspaper group has done in the face of falling sales – cut costs to try to keep margins up. Since 2013 Johnston Press has paid its board of directors £6.4m during a period when the company’s valuation has dropped from £100m to £14m. You think it would be enough for shareholders to perhaps look for someone to take the business in a new direction. But no, like a football team heading for relegation and its manager refusing to...
David Parkin goes to London to meet the great and good of Yorkshire

David Parkin goes to London to meet the great and good of Yorkshire

ONE of the best perks I ever had was a press pass to the Houses of Parliament. The weight of history combined with knowing that you were here in the “Mother of Parliaments” was genuinely awe-inspiring. And the subsidised press bar and restaurant was nice too. I used to take guests for a short tour, pointing out where Winston Churchill lay in state in Westminster Hall and where Charles I was sentenced to death. After a G&T in the wood panelled bar we’d walk up to the press restaurant for a meal accompanied by some fine House of Commons claret and attempt to listen into the conversation between a cabinet minister and a journalist at a neighbouring table. My guests felt as privileged as I did, except one, a fellow journalist, who instead of gazing out at Big Ben and the River Thames, spent the entire meal texting some girl he’d just met. Philistine. But then he’s now the editor of the Daily Telegraph and I’m… Whenever I have the opportunity to return to the Houses of Parliament I’m still as awe-struck and excited as I was the first day I went. This week the CBI in Yorkshire held its annual reception and lunch for MPs. Supported by Barclays, the CBI brings together MPs and business people from the region to discuss the issues of the day. A small panel of MPs answered questions in the Churchill Room of the House of Commons. The discussion was held under Chatham House rules, which effectively means it was off the record. Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP for Leeds West, Sir Kevin...
David Parkin on a devolution dead parrot and the event that sells out quicker than Take That

David Parkin on a devolution dead parrot and the event that sells out quicker than Take That

THE stand off between the Government and a majority of Yorkshire councils over regional devolution is starting to resemble Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch. You remember the one – where customer John Cleese has bought a parrot which is dead but pet shop owner Michael Palin is trying to convince him it is alive. It strikes me that’s how the debate over devolving more powers to Yorkshire is going. The Government has said it wants ‘devo’ deals centred around city regions and has committed to backing one for Sheffield. The only problem is that after squabbling between themselves for years, 17 Yorkshire councils have now decided they all want to work together and have drawn back from a deal based around the Leeds City Region and have proposed a ‘One Yorkshire’ plan. Barnsley and Doncaster councils have walked away from a Sheffield city region devolution deal to join the One Yorkshire “coalition of the willing”, leaving Sheffield and Rotherham councils standing like worried party hosts, wondering whether anyone will turn up to join them. The Government has indicated it will still back the plans for South Yorkshire and is currently resisting the One Yorkshire proposal. It prompted Keighley Labour MP John Grogan to table a debate in the House of Commons the other night calling for the Government to change its stance. He said it was time for Yorkshire to receive long-awaited devolved powers and a £150m annual budget as well as an elected mayor. Mr Grogan said a so-called One Yorkshire deal would create the second most powerful mayor in the UK after Sadiq Khan in London. John...
David Parkin on America’s biggest danger, language differences and fame at last

David Parkin on America’s biggest danger, language differences and fame at last

WITH his sombre tone and measured words, Donald Trump struck a strangely presidential figure as he reacted to the Las Vegas massacre, the kind of scene we have rarely seen since the President took office in January. Similar words on his Twitter feed looked oddly out of place, juxtaposed as they were coming closely after his insults about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un who he has taken to calling “Little Rocket Man” in Twitter taunts. I wonder if Trump would have remained so measured if the biggest mass murder in America in modern history been committed by a Muslim? The sense is that Trump’s immediate reaction would almost certainly not have been to try to unite the nation or articulate its grief, it would have been to propose further measures to restrict Muslims travelling to or in the USA. The reality is that this carnage was caused by an American, somebody born in America, who had lived there all his life and had a professional job and who, as far as we are aware up to this point, was a law abiding citizen. But under those laws to which Stephen Paddock abided, he was able to legally amass an arsenal of dozens of automatic and semi-automatic weapons which ultimately enabled him to kill 58 people and wound almost 500 more in America’s entertainment capital in a way that Isis can probably only dream about. America’s problem is that this evil was not caused by a shadowy radical Islamic terrorist group thousands of miles from its shores, it stemmed from the right that the Second Amendment of its Constitution gives...