Two more join `Scotsman' race

JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

Two more English newspaper groups have entered the race to buy the Scotsman. Northcliffe Newspapers and Midland Independent Newspapers are preparing bids for Thomson Regional Newspapers' Scottish titles, which include the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Aberdeen Press and Journal.

The move brings to 11 the number of publishers bidding to buy the titles, which were put up for sale last month. So far only four have publicly declared their hand.

Northcliffe, which publishes 48 regional newspapers in England and Wales, said yesterday it was "examining a possible acquisition". Executives are understood to be impressed by the success of their sister company, Associated Newspapers, which entered the rejuvenated Scottish market this year with a Scottish edition of the Daily Mail. Sales of the Mail in Scotland have doubled in six months.

Although Midland said it could not comment yesterday, senior executives are believed to be looking for a partner to launch a full bid for Scotsman Publications and Aberdeen Journals. In March, Chris Oakley, the Birmingham- based company's chief executive, said he was looking for acquisitions.

The other groups that have confirmed their interest are Caledonian Publishing, owners of the Glasgow Herald, and Publications (Scotland) Ltd, a consortium of right-wing business leaders. Earlier this month Professor Ross Harper, the head of the consortium, said he would launch a bid "within days". But although he issued a statement last week announcing that the consortium had engaged the merchant bank Hambros, no details of the bid have yet emerged.

Among other publishers thought to be in the running are Mirror Group, owner of the Daily Record, Scotland's biggest-selling newspaper, and DC Thomson, the Dundee-based group that publishes the highly profitable Courier and Sunday Post newspapers. DC Thomson is understood to be interested in acquiring Aberdeen Journals alone, consolidating its position in north- east Scotland.

The Canadian Thomson Corporation announced the sale of its Scottish titles in early July. The asking price is estimated at pounds 150m-pounds 180m. The deadline for bids is the end of next week.

Although some commentators have predicted that a sale would be concluded by the end of October, Nigel Harrison, Thomson's executive vice-president, warned yesterday that the process could be protracted.

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