Tribune’s future: unions and buyer agree deal for sale

Written By: Tribune web editor
Published: December 5, 2008 Last modified: December 5, 2008

by Keith Richmond

THE owners of Tribune this week agreed to a sale of the magazine in order to safeguard its future and open the way for increased investment and development. The decision was taken at a meeting of the Board following three months of negotiations with a prospective purchaser, a Labour Party activist. It will entail the transfer of a 51 per cent stake in Tribune Publications Ltd, currently owned by a consortium of trade unions represented by Unison, T&G (Unite), Amicus (Unite), Community, ASLEF and the Communication Workers’ Union.

The unions came to the rescue of Tribune five years ago when the consortium was created and sustained the title through a reverse in circulation decline and a dramatic reduction in its losses. But in order to survive investment was required to shed historical debt and finance a marketing strategy to increase sales. Under the terms of sale, the unions agreed on Tuesday at a meeting in the House of Commons, to pay off existing liabilities before sale.

The purchaser is offering to buy the 51 per cent stake for £1 and is offering to underwrite the magazine’s losses with an annual £40,000 “cohesive, properly resourced, ring-fence-funded marketing strategy to underpin a three-year drive to move Tribune into a break-even position”.

Any surpluses after that will be ploughed back into the magazine, which will be run as a not-for-profit venture with existing staff.

The board received a written commitment to “keep Tribune as a left-of-centre publication, retaining its roots in the labour movement but broadening the readership to include non-union and Labour Party members as well as non-members who sympathise or vote with the Labour cause”. The magazine will also expand to cover the legislative importance of the European Union, especially in the area of employment law, in conjunction with a marketing push into European institutions, politicians and activists. The unions have agreed that historical levels of advertising and current levels of subscriptions will be maintained “provided that the editorial integrity and political orientation of Tribune as a labour movement journal is maintained”.

The unions are holding urgent talks on the discharge of liabilities as Tribune went to press. Lawyers representing the two sides are expected to take several weeks to seal the deal which, it is hoped, will come into effect at the start of the new year. The prospective purchaser, who praised the unions for their “critical role” in keeping Tribune alive and providing it with a chance to begin a fresh phase in its 70-year history, has requested no publicity until the sale is completed.

Editor Chris McLaughlin said: “This is an exciting prospect for Tribune. The lawyers have a few wrinkles to sort out, but if this deal is successful the magazine promises to be bigger, better and more influential than ever.”