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Lancaster Guardian offices to close?

John Freeman
(with thanks to Sue Parish): Media web site HoldtheFrontPage reports Johnston Press is proposing to close the Lancaster Guardian’s office in Common Garden Street with the loss of three jobs - and move editorial staff to work at the base of the Morecambe Visitor, five miles away.

The newspaper's owners say the move has been put forward because of a ‘significant reduction in footfall’ for its front counter and is proposing to cut two receptionist roles and a cleaner - but the announcement comes after the company revealed advertising sales were down 11 per cent largely because of Government spending cuts and was seeking to make more cuts in its activities.

The Daily Telegraph reports the company says that nationally, advertising was down 10.6 per cent with employment adverts, a major part of its income, falling 30.7 per cent. The period covered 18 weeks to 7th May.

Johnston has also been hit by rises in the cost of news print, all or which means it is seeking economies of around £5 million this year.

The proposals come as the Guardian prepares to switch to a tabloid size on 19 May after 174 years as a broadsheet, putting it in line with the Morecambe Visitor. (We do have to wonder how long it will be before both papers are merged once this happens, although we must stress are not aware of any plans for this).

“Following a detailed review of activity at the front counter, showing the significant reduction in footfall through the front counter, it is proposed to close this branch office,“ said Darren Russell, managing director of Lancaster and Morecambe Newspapers Ltd in a statement. "As a result of this proposal there would be a reduction of two front counter roles, one cleaner and the relocation of the editorial team to Morecambe.

“Prior to any implementation, we will consult extensively. During this consultation process we will explain the procedure, consider all alternatives, examine ways of mitigating the effects of this proposal, determine redundancy terms and address any other issues that may arise.

“We anticipate that this consultation process will be complete by end May 2011.

“In the event this proposal goes ahead, the company will endeavour to minimise the impact of the proposal through re-deployment into alternative positions within the company and the group.”

This seems a very sad moment for our local press and reaction has been savage. "Johnstons could at least let the reporters work from home, sparing them the ordeal of the trudge to and from Morecambe in traffic which is never less than horrendous," commented former Guardian reporter Tom Henry. "For a city like Lancaster not to have local journalists working on the patch is appalling.

"A sad day indeed, and let’s hope the ‘consultation process’ involves the whole community, not just a couple of rubber-stamping suits."

Update, 1 June 2011: Almost as soon as news broke of the possible closure, Johnston Press announced the offices would be closing on 3rd June 2011. A sad day for local journalism.