Print split threatens Westferry pensions

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The Telegraph Media Group's decision to end its 50-50 joint venture with Express Newspapers at West Ferry Printers threatens to leave a £66m black hole in the printer's pension scheme.

The Express has offered to fund half the deficit – £33m – if the remainder was plugged by the Telegraph.

In a statement to the annual meeting of the members and beneficiaries of the West Ferry Printers pension scheme yesterday, Robert Sanderson, the group financial director of Express Newspapers, said a counter-offer by the Telegraph was rejected as "wholly insufficient" and that the funding issue was a "matter of urgency". He said he hoped the Telegraph's owner would "recognise their moral obligations" and made a call for the involvement of the Pensions Regulator.

Telegraph Media Group, however, insisted last night it would "honour its obligations and ensure all affected West Ferry employees and pension scheme members are treated fairly and properly".

It added: "The Pensions Regulator is already involved. In fact, both shareholders are currently awaiting notification from the Pensions Regulator for the next stage of the process in determining both the funding of the scheme and the timing for payments to meet the deficit."

Following the AGM a trustee present at the meeting said that the Telegraph "said very little". "The Telegraph were unprepared. They were asked a number of questions from the floor about whether or not they would fund the deficit and, while they made an attempt, their answers failed to satisfy anyone," he said.

He added that members of the pension scheme were very uncertain about the future of West Ferry Printers. The trustee also said there was "surprise" at the Telegraph Media Group's decision to abandon the joint venture. "We – me and the other trustees – were surprised. We thought the Telegraph was in talks with Express Newspapers for a new deal."