Board of 'Independent' studies business plan: Company to continue talks with potential new investors

THE BOARD of Newspaper Publishing, publisher of the Independent and Independent on Sunday, yesterday considered a strategic business plan to boost circulation, advertising and promotion of the two titles.

The board also decided to continue discussions with potential new investors, which include three 'Fleet Street' publishing houses.

The company is interested in the possibility of sharing non-editorial facilities, such as printing and distribution, but the company stressed that it would not entertain any arrangement that detracted from the independence of the newspapers.

One plan discussed yesterday involves the company's Spanish and Italian investors (El Pais and La Repubblica) gaining a controlling share of the company, with a new newspaper investor taking a minority holding. Andreas Whittam Smith, editor of the Independent, has always maintained that the papers could have no better partners than the Spanish and Italian investors, who have been supportive throughout the financial problems caused by the recession. He said yesterday: 'We are simply not discussing solutions that would prevent us being independent publishers.'

The board firmly ruled out any cuts in the editorial budgets of the papers.

A statement from the company last night said: 'Newspaper Publishing PLC today considered a strategic plan formulated by the company's management to develop NPP's business over the next three years. A number of different options were examined which would allow a secure future to emerge from the restructuring process now being undertaken. Considerable progress has been made and a further statement will be made early in the new year.'

Last night Robin Cook, trade spokesman for the Labour Party, said that Labour would give the newspaper 'every support' to stay independent.

'We will press for any takeover by another newspaper group to be blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Newspaper ownership is already held in too few hands,' he said.

'The public interest lies in promoting wider ownership of the press, not in even fewer people controlling the news we read.'

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