Guardian under pressure to stop spilling red ink

Guardian news publisher newspaper

The trust fund owner of the Guardian has put pressure on the news organisation to balance the books by signalling that it no longer wishes to provide an annual bailout.

The Scott Trust has put forward a new spending strategy, focusing on the long-term investment in the Guardian's future “rather than meeting short-term funding requirements”.

The £1bn endowment has repeatedly ridden to the rescue of the newspaper in recent years.

The Guardian Media Group, the publisher behind the title, was hit by a £10.1m operating loss for the year to March 28, an improvement on a £17.5m loss in 2020.

However, at the pre-tax level it swung from a £36.8m loss in 2020 to a profit of £198.2m once gains on the value of the trust fund's investments were taken into account.

As part of a governance review, the Scott Trust said: “In future the Scott Trust will manage the endowment more discretely from GMG’s operational finances, with clearer processes for capital allocation put in place so that the trust focuses on long-term investment in the future of the Guardian rather than meeting short-term funding requirements.”

A series of doomed expansionist ventures under the previous editor meant that in 2016 operating losses climbed to nearly £70m, prompting warnings that the erosion of the trust fund threatened the Guardian's long-term survival.

The losses have since been brought under tighter control, but remains under pressure from the decline of print, in common with all newspaper publishers.

Renewed determination to staunch the red ink was revealed as part of a governance shake-up that strengthened the power of the current editor, Katharine Viner. The Scott Trust stopped short of a more radical corporate shake-up that would have merged its own board with that of GMG.

Instead the chief executive of GMG will lose their place on the board of the Scott Trust, which controls the organisation's purse strings. Two trust board members with journalism experience will also transfer to the GMG board.

The move hands more power to Ms Viner, the Guardian's editor-in-chief, who will keep both her places on the boards of the Scott Trust and GMG.

Annette Thomas, GMG chief executive, quit in June after losing a power struggle with Ms Viner over the publisher's finances and strategy. There had been a battle over “who calls the shots”.

GMG is now in the process of replacing GMG chairman Neil Berkett, who will step down in March.

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