More poor results for Leeds local newspapers. How and when will it end?

YEP-front-e14216581352151It’s grim news. Again. For both The Yorkshire Post and sister paper The Yorkshire Evening Post.

We already knew that parent company Johnston Press had a dismal first half of 2015 – shares tumbled when a profit warning was issued in July – but figures released yesterday show how tough it has been for its two Leeds newspapers.

Despite yet another relaunch at the beginning of the year (aimed at placing the paper “at the heart of an upwardly-mobile 21st century city”), the Evening Post’s sales have continued to fall dramatically.

It is now only selling just over 20,000 copies day, down 16% from last year (one of the biggest percentage falls of all UK regional dailies), and is being outsold for the first time by the Sheffield Star.

The Yorkshire Post recorded a more modest fall of 10% in print sales, but a disastrous 10.6% FALL in the average number of “unique browsers” visiting its site every day – down from 28,658 to 25,615, according to online traffic stats released by ABC.

Like every other regional paper, The Yorkshire Post and The Evening Post are banking on replacing lost revenue from print with money made out of increased website traffic. But in Leeds, it doesn’t look like enough traffic is coming.

The Evening Post saw an increase of 13.6% of daily “unique browsers”, way below the national average of 32.8%, and way, way below the increases at the local papers in Manchester (up 74.8%), Newcastle (87.5%) and Liverpool (90.1%), all of which are published by Johnston Press’s rival Trinity Mirror.

Tipping point?

Ladybird 1It gets asked every time circulation figures are released, but where is this all going to end and when?

The received wisdom from publishers is that local print papers will be around for some time yet, with revenue trickling away slowly enough from print for online to save the day.

But what if, as this commentator suggests, there is a kind of psychological tipping point approaching for advertisers, when they start to have second thoughts about the value of print advertising campaigns given the small number of readers?

How small is small? At the current rate of decline (30% since 2013) the Evening Post will be selling some 14,000 copies a day in two years time, and under 10,000 two years after that, in 2019. Would that be small enough?

In the meantime, there is talk of consolidation in the regional press industry, with all the major players, including Johnston Press, “publicly positioning themselves as open to (merger) deals”. A merger between JP and the Newsquest Media Group (owners of the York Press and the Bradford Telegraph) would offer some economies of scale in our region.

We’ll see.

If that doesn’t end up happening, Johnston Press could always try turning the YEP into a free paper to rival Metro (this year’s re-launch gave it more of a Metro-style look and feel). I’m told they’ve been giving the YEP away for free in recent weeks at Leeds train station, whether as a promo tool or to test the waters is anyone’s guess.

Here are this year’s stats for print sales. Note that some 1,200 of The Yorkshire Post’s total is not paid for.

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And here are the stats for web traffic. In two years, the Huddersfield Examiner has left The Yorkshire Post way behind.

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And here are those local online stats in the context of the rest of the country’s local papers’ website traffic.

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Council writes off £379,000 debt at troubled Leeds theatre company

LGTCalamityJaneLarge

Final performance today

It’s only a footnote in the troubled financial history of the Leeds Grand umbrella company, but worth recording nonetheless: Leeds City Council has agreed to write off £379,000 the company owed.

The sum represents the outstanding part of the Grand’s share of the bill for the refurbishment of the City Varieties, one of the three arts organisations it runs.

Council leaders agreed last week to a request from the company, which is currently owned by the council but run “at arms length”, that the contribution be written off.

Following a council review last winter, the plan is for the company to turn itself into a charitable trust.

Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House’s share of the cost of the refurb (which was completed in 2011) was set at £1.2m, but the company only managed to raise £615,000, leaving a £593,000 hole.

“The Theatre Board recognised that given the Company’s current financial position and future financial challenges … it is not likely that the Company will be in a position to fund this shortfall and will help the Company to convert to an Independent Trust (sic),” said a report drafted for last Wednesday’s meeting.

“To this end the Company has written to the Council to request that this funding shortfall is written off. Given that the scheme has come in under budget, the actual level of additional debt the Council would need to raise to fund this £593k shortfall would be £379k.”

Annual grant cut

Coming next week

Coming next week

The Leeds Grand umbrella company – which runs Leeds Grand Theatre, the City Varieties and the Hyde Park Picture House – has been operating at a significant deficit for a number of years and has relied on its reserves and extra cash from the council to balance its books. Its unrestricted reserves have now dried up.

The review of the way the company operates was launched by the council in July 2014 as it bailed out the company to the tune of  £653,000.

The council has pledged extra funding (over and above the grant it gives the company annually) for the next couple of years to make sure the company remains a going concern.

Along with most other arts organisations in the city, the company had its annual grant from the council cut this year – down from £200,000 in 2014-15 to £160,000 in 2015-16.

According to its most recent company accounts, Leeds Grand is also facing a future bill of up to £2.5m to get the roof of the Grand Theatre building replaced. “The roof is now losing slates in high winds,” said a disconsolate report from the company’s directors lodged with Companies House in January this year.

Back in February, it was agreed by council bosses that the company move to immediately appoint an interim full-time chief executive – to lead the effort to turn around the company’s “current deficit-generating business model”.

If the job’s been advertised and/or filled, I missed it.

 

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Now we’re definitely bidding, some FAQs about the Euro Culture Capital bid

cultureSome FAQs about what’s going to happen after Leeds council bosses rubber-stamp a report next week (18th March) recommending the city bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.

Q: Who’s going to run the bid?

A “strategic steering group” is going to be set up with an independent chair and the council’s culture chief, Cllr Lucinda Yeadon, sitting on it. The group is going to “advise on and oversee the development of the bid”.

Q: Is it going to be “the usual suspects”?

No. The report says specifically that the group would need to be chosen based on their “knowledge, skills and approach rather than for being ‘the usual suspects’”.

“Diversity will be important, not to tick a box but to ensure the bid benefits from the widest range of voices, ideas and perspectives.”

Q: So who’s going to appoint the steering group?

A small “selection group” chaired by Cllr Yeadon

cityvarietiesQ: Who’s going to write the bid?

That’s not very clear, but the steering group and the council will have to approve it once it’s been written.

Q: How will we know what’s going into the bid?

We won’t, until it’s been written and submitted. The council believes that some stuff has to be kept secret from other cities who bid.

“Leeds will be in direct competition with other UK cities therefore some elements such as budgets and artistic content of the final bid will have to remain confidential until after the bid submission,” the report says.

Q: So we won’t know what arts stuff is in there till it’s been decided?

Nope.

Q: So do we get to say what that arts stuff should be? 

Think of it as a trust thing.

“We would need to find a way by which those writing the bid can be trusted and empowered by the City to bid on its behalf,” the report says.

Q: Are we going to be involved then? 

LGTauditoriumpeoplebigYes. The report says the bid and “the future programme of activity” should involve and benefit all the communities of Leeds “as far as possible”.

You’ll be able to help draft the city’s revamped cultural strategy (2017-30) …

And the “city-wide engagement” is going to continue, with a focus on the people who haven’t been aware there’s been a conversation going on.

Q: What conversation?

Keep up. The city-wide engagement and conversation of last year … about bidding.

“The spirit of the city-wide engagement would continue through the development of the bid,” the report says.

Proposals are going to be developed “for establishing a framework to further the spirit of citywide conversation, engagement and transparency” …

Q: Transparency? As in keeping stuff confidential? 

Fair point. The report does admit that keeping stuff secret “may seem to present a conflict with our open conversation to date”.

Anyway, where was I? …. The engagement framework.

That could be stuff like “open access meetings hosted in different community settings,” possibly facilitated by councillors and “local cultural organisations.”

Q: To decide what goes in to the bid?

It doesn’t say. But given that what goes in to the bid is going to be kept secret …

Q: OK … What about the money? How much is it going to cost?

“How much to bid” or “how much to hold the events in 2023?

Q: How much to bid 

Kaiser Chiefs perform a sold out show at The O2 arenaIt looks like the council is setting aside around £460,000 over the three years till the bid has to be in (December 2017). That’s £285k in staff costs, plus a further £175k in cash.

But the council will still be “a minority funder of the bid in cash terms”, the report says.

There’s more detail in the “draft income and expenditure budget” for the bid that council bosses will be looking at next week …

Q: Excellent. What does that say?

We don’t know. It’s being kept confidential “in order not to release information publicly to competitor cities”.

Q: Ah! The competitors … And the money needed to hold the event?

A minimum of 20 million euros – which is the smallest amount anyone city has spent on it after they’ve won.

However much it ends up being, it’s going to mean a “very significant investment” for the council, the report says.

But they won’t be stumping up all the cash: they’ll be looking for contributions from the likes of the Arts Council, “Lottery distributors”, private sector sponsorship, trusts and foundations, European funding, earned income, philanthropy … and the Local Enterprise Partnership …

lufcQ: Hurrah for the LEP!

… indeed.

There’s a clearer picture of the costs in the “illustrative budget for the year (2023)” that council bosses will be looking at next week, but …

Q: Don’t tell me … it’s being kept confidential … 

” … in order not to release information publicly to any competitor cities”.

You’re getting the hang of this.

Q: Hang on. What would happen if we decided not to do all this secrecy stuff and put the bid together openly as a city?

Don’t be daft. We’d run the risk of ending up with a reputation of being a city whose culture is so open and participatory and confident that it doesn’t feel it has to hide anything from the competition.

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Steady online growth for Leeds-based local papers … BUT

Screenshot_2015-02-26-17-19-22After Wednesday’s not so good news about continuing declining sales of our local regional daily papers, here’s the better news about their growing online audiences.

Just about all of them posted steady year on year increases in online readership in the second half of 2014, according to data published by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Before the BUT … (there’s always a BUT) …

… a couple of headlines from the table below:

* the Huddersfield Daily Examiner very nearly doubled its online readership over the year, and now gets 9,500 more “unique browsers” a day to its website than The Yorkshire Post (why? see below)

* The Hull Daily Mail is still the most read local daily in the region, both online and on paper

onlineyorks2h14

For a bit of context, here are those local stats placed in the national picture, a table showing which regional dailies are getting the most traffic. They’re BIG numbers at the top.

(our local Yorkshire ones are in red – I’ve included the Halifax Courier because even though it’s only published weekly in print people can read it online any time they like)

onlinenatbybrowsers2h14

Now I know that no-one has come up with a way yet of turning online audience into cash, but if and when they do, you’d imagine that the bigger the audience, the greater the revenue is going to be.

So, the prospect of our two Leeds-based papers – The Yorkshire Post and the Evening Post – turning their average combined daily audience of 94,000 unique browsers into a sustainable business is, you’d presume, more remote than that of the Manchester Evening News, with its 414,810 unique browsers a day.

(I know it’s not going to happen … but if each of those 414,810 made a micro-payment of a penny a day, the Manchester paper would earn £125,000 a month. Makes you think)

The disparity in audience growth obviously isn’t down to the quality of the journalists on each paper but, I’m guessing, to such things as the fan base of a city’s football team(s).

It looks like it’s also down to the way the papers’ parent companies have been rolling out their “digital first” strategies.

Which brings us back to the dramatic rise of the Huddersfield Examiner, which happens to be the only paper in our patch that’s owned and run by Trinity Mirror.

As you’ll see from the table below, Trinity Mirror is rushing ahead of rival Johnston Press (the owners of the YP and the YEP) in developing its online audience: the top seven titles in terms of growth are ALL Trinity Mirror.

What have they done? Well, have a flick through the Yorkshire Evening Post website (Johnston Press) and the Manchester Evening News (Trinity Mirror) one and you tell me.

“Digital analytics”

Trinity Mirror: "digital analytics"

Trinity Mirror: “more of the content people want”

What Trinity Mirror says – via its digital publishing director for regional brands, David Higgerson – is:

“The increasing use of digital analytics to inform and determine content decisions is helping us deliver more of the content people want, when they want it, especially among local users.”

That sounds like it might lead to a constant diet of “Get Me a Murder a Day“, pets in pyjamas, and endless football gossip, but it doesn’t.

Whatever “digital analytics” they’re using, it’s not stopping them running the “serious stuff” (yes, I know football is serious) in depth. Here’s a random page from earlier in the week: pretty much everything you wanted to know about the devolved Manchester NHS Service, all smartly presented from one page.

Why haven’t Johnston Press set up our Leeds-based papers yet to do the same? And are there enough journalists left on the titles to deliver that kind of coverage?

Here’s the table showing which regional papers’ online audience grew most in the second half of 2014 – Trinity Mirror in blue, Johnston Press in green.

onlinenatbygrowth2h14

 

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Leeds council’s legal move against “persistent beggars” quashed in High Court

beggingAn injunction secured by Leeds City Council to crack down on “persistent beggars” was quashed in the High Court today.

Under the injunction – granted last June in Leeds County Court – “persistent beggars” faced possible prison or a hefty fine if they continued to operate in the city centre. It was said at the time to be the first restraining order of its kind in the country.

A legal challenge followed after two individuals were served with injunctions in July and August and applications were made to commit them to prison.

And that challenge led to today’s ruling by a judge of the High Court at Leeds District Registry to quash (or “discharge”) the injunction.

Why was it quashed?

Well, I’m no legal expert, and I’m relying on a report posted following today’s ruling on the website of Garden Court North Chambers (the barristers representing the two individuals).

It’s all I’ve got to go on … and it’s in legal.

The report says that the council “obtained the injunction/restraining order from ‘begging’ in Leeds City centre against ‘persons unknown’, even though a number of the alleged beggars, including our clients Mr X and Mr Y, were known to Leeds City Council”.

“Mr X and Mr Y were both then served with the injunction after it had been obtained despite being later described in Leeds City Council’s own evidence as known beggars,” the report says.

“Statutory remedies … should have been used”

Applications were subsequently made by the two individuals to have the injunction set aside or discharged on the basis that (again according to the Chambers’ report):

1  The Court did not have power to make it as there are statutory remedies that should have been used

2  It was an abuse of process not to name those it knew and alleged to be begging when the injunction was sought and then to seek to enforce it against those persons.

3  In any event the criteria for an injunction restraining a criminal offence or public nuisance were not met (especially as Parliament had reduced the penalty for the offence of begging to a Level 1 fine)

4  The injunction failed to consider the personal circumstances of the individuals concerned and was impermissibly made against “all persons”.

5  Should not have been granted as it subverted the prohibition on the making of bye-laws without the permission of the Secretary of State.

“No grounds for injunctions being made”

The report goes on: “The council conceded that the injunctions should be discharged against Mr X and Mr Y and that the committal applications should be dismissed with costs, but originally sought that the remainder of the injunction remained in place.”

His Honour Judge Saffman, however, required Leeds City Council to show why the injunction should not be discharged in its entirety as if the injunction could not be maintained against Mr X or Mr Y it could not be maintained against any other person and after hearing brief submissions held that he should discharge the injunction entirely,” it says.

What are the possible knock-ons from the ruling? Here’s one from the Garden Court North Chambers’ report:

“Judges and lawyers should be aware that local authorities do make applications without notice to obtain these injunctions when there are no grounds for them being made and that they should be challenged. It is understood that apparently unlawful begging injunctions of this type may be in force in other cities in England.”

And what has this short-lived (and short-sighted, it now looks) move to crack down on beggars in Leeds cost us? And what will they come up with to replace it?

Who knows.

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Big fall in sales again at Yorkshire Evening Post

ladybird3Pretty bad news for the Yorkshire Evening Post from the latest circulation figures for regional daily papers released today by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

The paper has recorded one of the highest percentage falls in average daily circulation, down 15.7% from 26,038 to 21,946. (only four other papers in the country performed worse)

The effect of the paper’s latest revamp – introduced in January this year – isn’t covered by the figures released today, which deal with circulation in the second half of 2014. We’ll know what effect it’s had, if any, in August.

A lower than average drop of 8.9% takes sister paper The Yorkshire Post below 30,000 copies a day for the first time in living memory.

At 51,244, the combined circulation of the two Leeds-based Johnston Press papers is well below that of the Liverpool Echo (61,902). Sad though the prospect is, it does make you wonder how long publishing both will remain viable.

Heavy falls too for Bradford’s Telegraph and Argus (down 12.8% to 17,423) and the Sheffield Star (down 12.7% to 21,437).

And the permanent conundrum: how do they keep publishing the Doncaster Star with its sales now well under 1,000 a day?

Here are the details of today’s figures. Note that the The Yorkshire Post’s circulation figures include 1,318 copies that are not paid for. All the other figures represent average daily sales.

salesq214

For a guesstimate of where our regional daily papers sales figures may be by the time Leeds is … say … European Capital of Culture in 2023, see last August’s story here.

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It’s budget day in Leeds … now where were we with the Living Wage?

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Cllr Green: no long-term commitment

Interesting news from Bradford where the Labour-run council has announced it’s proposing to pay over 2,000 of its lowest-paid workers the “living wage” from autumn this year.

According to a report in the Telegraph and Argus, bringing the pay of council workers like gardeners, cleaners, cooks, security guards, drivers and refuse workers up to £7.85 per hour is going to cost the council £1.6m.

The change, if approved tomorrow by a meeting of Bradford’s Full Council, is not a long-term commitment, however.

Council leader Cllr David Green told the paper “the authority would not be signing up to the Living Wage Charter as it was unable to commit to paying the rate forever”.

Good news for those affected, but think of it as “Living Wage” lite.

What’s this got to do with Leeds?

cllr_wakefield_twitter

Cllr Wakefield: fair wage, regional living wage …

Coincidentally, today – the day the council in Leeds gets to approve its annual budget – is the one day of the year that councillors discuss the “living wage”.

It’s become a time-honoured tradition at Leeds City Council that opposition councillors use the “living wage” as a stick with which to beat the ruling Labour Party.

Every year there’s no mention of introducing the “living wage” for low-paid council workers in the Labour budget. And every year one of the opposition parties proposes an amendment to introduce it (this year it’s the Tories’ turn).

And every year the amendment gets voted down by the Labour majority, with promises that they’re working on introducing something … sometime.

Back in 2013 council leader Keith Wakefield told the budget meeting of the council that “by working with trade unions to make more savings, this Council will become a fair wage Council next year.”

Last year he told the meeting that “working with the unions, we will show commitment to low paid workers by introducing a regional living wage for this Council and for this city”.

Fair wage? Regional living wage? Whatever … if anything has happened since last year I missed it. It’s probably still being discussed with the unions.

To be fair, it’s complicated.

reevesbradford

Leeds MP: “brilliant news” from Bradford

First the council has got to find the money to pay the increased wage bill (and how much is needed depends on who you believe).

Then it’s got to be certain that it’s going to be able to cope with the permanent uncertainty that would come with having a two-tier wage policy, with one tier – the “Living Wage” – set annually by an outside body over which it has no control (that’s the bit that Bradford seems to have ducked).

Then it’s got to factor in the likely knock-ons for those working for schools (not covered usually by the amendments) and, in the long term, for the thousands of workers employed by firms that the council contracts work out to (ducked for the moment by Bradford too).

And then there are the pay-scale issues. Bring the 1,500 lowest-paid council workers in Leeds up to the Living Wage and you’ll almost inevitably end up with some staff suddenly earning the same as their supervisors. Career paths and pay differentials thrown into confusion at a stroke.

Some councils, like Birmingham, have managed it. Others, like Leeds, haven’t.

If you want to watch this year’s episode of the Leeds “Living Wage” saga live, you can tune in here from 1.30pm.

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