George Osborne's future at Evening Standard in doubt

Exclusive: former chancellor expected to leave role amid shakeup by new chief executive, sources say

George Osborne’s future at the Evening Standard is believed to be in doubt, with sources at the newspaper expecting the former chancellor to leave the publication.

Osborne was appointed to edit the daily London newspaper in March 2017 and since then has continued to juggle the job with several other roles, including a £650,000-a-year post advising the investment fund BlackRock, and as chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Amid rampant speculation over the editor’s future among staff, the Evening Standard did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday afternoon.

Sources at the newspaper said the publication was changing direction under its new chief executive, Mike Soutar – the founder of the free magazine Shortlist who joined the Evening Standard at the end of last year – as he seeks to reduce financial losses of £11m a year.

The newspaper, which distributes 800,000 copies a day across London, has been hit hard by the decline in print advertising revenue. Its free distribution model means that it has high fixed costs, which cannot be offset with price rises. At the same time the outlet is facing the challenge of 4G mobile phone signal coming to the London Underground, giving readers an alternative to reading a print newspaper.

The company has been pushing investment in its website while having to make job cuts and several long-serving staff members have departed.

A key issue facing the Evening Standard is the role of its owner, the Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev, and his willingness to subsidise the operation. The company’s accounts say the losses mean the outlet “requires continuous financial support from the shareholders”.

The Evening Standard’s owner, Evgeny Lebedev, left, poses with Sir Ian McKellen, centre, and Osborne at the Evening Standard Theatre in November 2019.
The Evening Standard’s owner, Evgeny Lebedev, left, poses with Sir Ian McKellen, centre, and Osborne at the Evening Standard Theatre in November 2019. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

A minority stake in the Evening Standard’s parent company was bought at the end of December 2017 by an offshore Cayman Islands company that turned out to be ultimately controlled by a Saudi Arabian state bank.

This led to a failed attempt by the British government to investigate what they termed “unconventional, complex and clandestine” deals to enable Saudi investment in the Evening Standard and the Independent, a sister title.

The Guardian also revealed that Lebedev has hosted a private dinner for Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman.

The newspaper groups eventually won the court case on the basis that the British government did not have the legal right to intervene.

Contributor

Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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