Field seeks clarity on PPF's Johnston Press ‘concerns’

Written by Theo Andrew
21/11/18

Work and Pensions Committee chair Frank Field has written to the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) over concerns it had regarding the deal for Johnston Press.

Earlier this week, the PPF expressed “concerns” around the timing of the pre-pack arrangement, as well as whether the groups assets were “marketed appropriately” while it was trying to sell the group.

Following the reports, Field wrote to PPF chief executive, Oliver Morley, to ask if its concerns were “unique” to Johnston Press, or whether they “reflect wider concerns about the use of pre-pack administrations”.

Yesterday, the PPF said it was looking to recover £305m from Johnston Press, under the section 75 debt notice, while the PPF estimates the scheme to hold a £109m deficit.

Despite the PPF claim, it is unclear how Johnston Press would able to afford it having failed to renegotiate a £220m bond earlier this year.

Last weekend, Johnston Press announced the end of its formal sale process for the group, as offers failed to deliver “sufficient value”. Its assets will now be taken over by a new firm, JPI Media, who will move to syphon off the pension scheme.

In a statement, the PPF said: “We are concerned with the timing of the administration falling 48 hours before a payment was due to the pension scheme.

“We also have concerns over whether the assets of the 50 or so companies within the plc have been marketed appropriately before the pre-pack.”

“We will continue to work working closely with The Pensions Regulator and the company administrator to ensure the best outcome for the PPF and our levy payers.

“We want to reassure members of the Johnston Press Pension Plan that their benefits are protected by the PPF at what must be an unsettling time for them.”

On Monday, Field wrote to the TPR questioning the protections in place to ensure pension schemes are not being “dumped" onto the PPF.

In a letter to the chief executive, Lesley Titcomb, Field questioned the “provisions” in place to ensure schemes are not being dumped at a cost to pensioners and levy-payers, following the news that Johnston Press Pension Plan is set to fall into the PPF.

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