Magazine article The Spectator

The Telegraph Staff Are Breathing a Sigh of Relief - but the Barclays Are No Softies

Magazine article The Spectator

The Telegraph Staff Are Breathing a Sigh of Relief - but the Barclays Are No Softies

Article excerpt

So it's over. The Barclay brothers have bought the Telegraph Group, including The Spectator which is what we all thought they had done five months ago. Now only a last-ditch legal challenge by Conrad Black can scupper the deal, and that is thought quite unlikely to succeed. In financial terms, at least, the Daily Telegraph is the jewel the Barclays have sought, and accounts for almost all of the £665 million they have paid. Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay have acquired the highest-selling quality newspaper in Europe and one of the most profitable, and they have paid more than anyone ever has for a title. For them it must be a dream realised to have captured one of the great newspapers in the world not to mention The Spectator, probably the most distinguished magazine in the galaxy.

Down at Canary Wharf almost everyone is breathing a sigh of relief. Once DMGT dropped out last week - its venture-capital partners balked at the escalating price - there were fears that 3i might triumph. David Montgomery, the former chief executive of Mirror Group Newspapers, and the man heading 3i's bid, had identified greater cost savings than anyone else, and was longing to apply his scalpel. In the event the Barclays could pay more. It is assumed that they will be less draconian, but people would be unwise to conclude that there will be no cuts. Every bidder for the Telegraph Group has identified savings, and the Barclays are no softies. They have paid a great deal for a company that is making less than £50 million a year and, although they have no shareholders breathing down their necks, they will want to make their capital work for them. But my guess is that they will take their time and not make any hasty decisions.

Will they make good proprietors? Many of their former employees say that they have been model owners at the European (which they bought, and finally closed, after spending tens of millions of pounds), the Business and the Scotsman. They do not interfere in a day-to-day sense, or thrust their political views down the throats of their editors. They are also in for the long term, unlike the venture-capital bidders who would have sold on the Telegraph Group after making a quick turn. It is true that Sir David and Sir Frederick are 69, and rather old to be acquiring major newspapers, but Aidan Barclay, Sir David's son, is spoken of as an able person, and may well emerge as the chief executive of the Telegraph Group.

The Barclays therefore have quite a lot to recommend themselves as proprietors of the Daily Telegraph. It should be added that they are instinctively in tune with the paper's political views. But before I am accused of sucking up to the probable new proprietors of this magazine, let me point out a snag. The Barclays may be brilliant businessmen but they are relatively novice publishers. Not only that. They have not had much success with any newspaper venture with which they have been associated. They could not make the European work (perhaps no one could) and, after a promising start, the Business has rather fizzled out. Their stewardship of the Scotsman has been no more than moderately successful. As newspaper publishers they have been playing towards the bottom of the second division, and suddenly find themselves in charge of one of the leaders of the premier league.

It might be argued that the Daily Telegraph is a perfectly oiled machine which largely runs itself. …

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