Wales politics

Newsquest Newport job cuts: Parties query £340,000 aid

Newspapers being printed Image copyright Thinkstock

Opposition parties have called for answers after it was revealed a newspaper firm cutting jobs in Newport was given more than £340,000 grant aid.

The Welsh Government gave Newsquest £245,000 in 2015 to expand a sub-editing hub now closing with the loss of 14 jobs, with work moving to Dorset.

In 2013-14 the company got more than £95,000 from the Skills Growth Fund.

Plaid Cymru asked if the firm "stuck to their end of the bargain" while a Tory AM asked if the money should be repaid.

Newsquest, whose papers include the Newport-based South Wales Argus, opened the sub-editing hub in 2013.

At its peak the unit employed more than 70 people, checking off material written by reporters from 100 daily and weekly newspapers across the UK.

After two rounds of job cuts in 2016, the hub will now close in April, with work moving to Weymouth, Dorset.

Earlier this week, a Newsquest spokesman said the workload had reduced "significantly" due to an "improvement in workflow across all of our newsrooms".

Image copyright Google
Image caption The Newsquest-owned South Wales Argus is produced in Newport

Asked about the grant aid, the Welsh Government spokesman said: "In 2015 we provided £245,808 to Newsquest towards the creation of 50 jobs and the safeguarding of 15 jobs at its facility in Maesglas, Newport.

"The award was conditional on the jobs being in place until May 2020. This operation well exceeded its planned job creation target.

"We were very sorry to hear that Newsquest decided to undertake several rounds of redundancies at the operation during 2016, which has seen staffing levels reduce significantly.

"The group continued to employ a significant number of staff at the site for other related group editorial services.

"We are aware of this fresh report of further redundancies," the spokesman added.

"We are seeking confirmation from the company and will be reviewing the staffing levels at the site in relation to their funding conditions in due course."

The Welsh Government confirmed Newsquest also received support under the Skills Growth Wales programme in 2013/2014, claiming £95,226.72.

'Another blow'

Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins, who chairs the assembly's culture committee, was "very concerned", saying: "It seems that again, we have a company which has happily received public money and not stuck to their end of the bargain.

"This has come out of the blue and will be another blow to our news media industry in Wales, at a time when it's already under pressure."

For the Conservatives, South Wales East AM Mohammad Asghar said: "Taxpayers will be looking to the Welsh Government to provide assurances that this isn't more money down the drain.

"Because if Newsquest has breached assurances it gave over jobs when applying for these grants then the money will need to be paid back.

"Sadly, this is also a blow for journalism in this country, with more and more of the physical capacity being drained away from Wales and piling up the pressure on the industry."

John Toner, national organiser for Wales of the National Union of Journalists, said: "This company is not a struggling start-up, but a major player in this country and in the USA.

"Why did it feel the need to apply for government funding?

"Newsquest owes an apology to the Welsh Government and to Welsh taxpayers."

A Newsquest spokesman said: "We are in constant discussions with the Welsh Government."

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