STV boss says station cuts 'necessary'

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Simon PittsImage source, PA

STV chief executive Simon Pitts has said plans which could see more than 50 staff lose their jobs are "necessary" to guarantee the broadcaster's future.

He also dismissed speculation that the station is being readied to be sold off to ITV.

STV announced plans last month to close its loss-making STV2 channel and restructure its news operation.

The move puts a total of 59 jobs at risk and sparked a ballot for industrial action.

Mr Pitts told Holyrood's culture committee that "hardly anyone" watched STV2, with its flagship 19:00 news programme attracting 1,800 viewers.

And he said plans to create quality shows in Scotland which could be sold worldwide "if we get it right" could create many more jobs that would "dwarf" those currently under threat.

Mr Pitts was challenged by MSPs to justify his remuneration package in light of the planned job cuts.

The executive received an £853,000 "golden hello" on taking up his job in January, which included a £187,000 payment along with deferred shares worth £666,000, in addition to his basic salary of £400,000.

Image source, STV

Green MSP Ross Greer said: "You, this year, will receive £1.2m in total earnings. There are people in your newsroom on £18,000 a year, journalists who are facing redundancy.

"Now, the harsh decision for them is that that's their livelihood and it must be incredibly hard for them to stomach that when they see people at the other end of the organisation receiving the kind of remuneration that you are.

"Do you understand how harsh that is for them and did you consider forfeiting any of your total potential earnings for this year?"

'Difficult decisions'

Mr Pitts did not clarify if he had considered forfeiting any of his remuneration but said the package had been approved by the STV board and shareholders.

He said: "I understand how difficult the situation is for the people who facing redundancy. It's horrible.

"We have made a series of difficult decisions that have a real impact on people's lives.

"We have done that in order to be able to grow this business to use the savings we are making in order to re-invest for the future."

In a letter to the committee, STV chairwoman Baroness Ford said the "one off payment" was to compensate Mr Pitts for his shareholding at ITV, which she insisted was "usual practice in public companies when very senior executives transfer from one company to another".

STV made a profit of £18m last year and the changes are expected to save £2m a year, with a further £5m a year being invested in new programmes.

"This is not a strategy to prepare STV for sale to ITV or anyone else. If that were the case, then we simply wouldn't be investing," Mr Pitts said.