Evening Standard reports £17m loss as Covid hits London commuting

Freesheet’s revenues fall by 31% for the 12 months to 27 September

The Evening Standard has reported a loss of £17m for last year as the coronavirus crisis kept its main readership of commuters and central London workers at home during the pandemic.

Revenues for the London freesheet, which has run up losses of more than £40m in the past three years, plunged by 31% from £64m to £44m for the 12 months to 27 September as advertisers froze budgets and readership plummeted.

The newspaper has been hit particularly hard as it relies on advertising for 90% of revenues, and its pre-tax losses widened by more than a quarter from £13.6m in 2019 to £17.1m in 2020.

Last summer, management sought to dramatically cut costs, including making a third of employees redundant, in a £4.2m restructuring programme, according to filings at Companies House published on Wednesday. The circulation of the Evening Standard also halved to just over 400,000 copies a day as nationwide lockdowns kept the public at home.

The financial filings also show that the company made £625,000 in “loss of office” compensation payments in 2020. In a year of major senior management upheaval, Mike Soutar resigned as chief executive after only six months in the role. He was replaced by Charles Yardley, the former senior executive at Forbes and City AM.

The Evening Standard also secured a £20m financing facility from its shareholders to help weather the pandemic, of which £7m was used by the end of the financial year in September.

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The Evening Standard is controlled by Evgeny Lebedev, who became friends with Boris Johnson during the prime minister’s tenure as mayor of London. In 2017-18, Lebedev, who was was given a peerage in 2020, sold a 30% stake in the Evening Standard to a Cayman Islands company, which later turned out to be controlled by a bank with close ties to the Saudi Arabian state.

“The exceptional circumstances presented us with the opportunity to accelerate the diversification of our offering and move to a digital-first strategy,” said a spokesperson for the Evening Standard.

“We are proud that despite the challenging market conditions, we continued to print throughout all lockdowns, swiftly pivoting to a home distribution model. As we emerge from the pandemic, the Evening Standard will continue to play a vital role at the heart of London.”

Lebedev also controls the online-only Independent, which in February reported an increase in annual profits from £2.3m to £2.7m. The Indy’s revenues were also up from £27m to £30m, in the year to 27 September 2020, because of increased digital readership during the pandemic.

Last June, Emily Sheffield, a former reporter at the Evening Standard and the Guardian, was named editor of the Evening Standard. Sheffield, who took over from the former chancellor George Osborne, is the sister of the former prime minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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