Mr Whittam Smith, who became chief executive in 1987, shortly after the daily newspaper was launched, said yesterday that he had been planning for some time to devote himself entirely to the day-to-day running of the newspapers. 'I have come to the conclusion that doing both jobs was bad for the company and bad for me,' he said.
Ian Hay Davison, chairman of Newspaper Publishing, said: 'Mr Whittam Smith has done a remarkable job in creating the group and has carried a heavy burden by combining both roles. We are delighted that he will be in the editorial chair to take the papers forward.'
The company intends to spend up to pounds 4m this year on improving both titles - pounds 1m coming from existing funds, and the rest from hitherto untouched borrowing facilities. Newspaper Publishing made a small profit in the year to last September, recovering from a loss of pounds 10m in the previous year.
Circulation of both papers has fallen in the past year, by just under 5 per cent for the Sunday newspaper and over 10 per cent for the daily. But recently the Independent has retained its share of the shrinking quality newspaper market.
The company hopes to appoint a new chief executive by October, after which Mr Whittam Smith will step down. Further plans for refinancing of the company will then be put into action.
Mr Davison said that money would be sought from existing shareholders and potential new investors. 'There may be a change in ownership, but that doesn't mean a change in control,' he said.
Mr Whittam Smith told Independent staff yesterday that he was 'very happy' to return to full-time editing: 'There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that editing, as opposed to being chief executive, wins by about one thousand to one.'
Sir Kit McMahon has been appointed a non-executive director of Newspaper Publishing plc. Sir Kit is a former chairman and chief executive of the Midland Bank and a former deputy governor of the Bank of England. He is chairman of Coutts Consulting Group.