A share bonus plan established by the late Robert Maxwell is to be wound up by Mirror Group management, with the residual shares awarded free to Mirror employees, David Montgomery, chief executive, said yesterday.
Each employee will receive 400 shares, worth pounds 552 at yesterday's close. In place of the plan, under which staff were awarded stock at Mr Maxwell's discretion, a new employee share bonus system will be established linked to profit targets.
Speaking to shareholders at yesterday's annual general meeting, Mr Montgomery said that all seven Mirror Group titles had seen their circulation rise, year on year, in May, for the first time in the group's recent history.
According to preliminary figures from the audit bureau of circulation, obtained by the Independent, the flagship Daily Mirror sold 2,575,000 copies in May, 3 per cent up year on year. Sunday Mirror circulation was up 2.2 per cent to 2,656,000.
The Independent, published by Newspaper Publishing, in which Mirror Group has a 43 per cent interest, saw circulation rise by nearly 7 per cent to 296,000 in the year to May. Sales of its sister title, the Independent on Sunday, rose 3 per cent to 335,000.
Mr Montgomery told shareholders a price increase for the Independent was expected "by the end of the year".
Following the meeting, Mr Montgomery said that the company's expansion strategy would not be stymied by the Government's plans to change cross- media ownership rules. Analysts widely view Mirror Group as a potential loser if rules restricting newspaper publishers with more than 20 per cent of the national market were put in place.
"Our plans have not been affected," Mr Montgomery said. He ruled out a sale of the company's 19.9 per cent holding in Scottish Television, which the group may have hoped to own outright following reform of the cross-media ownership regulations.
Mr Montgomery added that the company's cable television channel, LiveTV, was on target for a June launch, and that press reports suggesting there had been hitches in a link-up between the Mirror, the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Cable to establish a local LiveTV affiliate in the Midlands were wide of the mark.
"We have no particular date in mind for the launch of the service in Birmingham," he said, adding that the partners were all committed to the venture.