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AGM – Express takeover, schemes merger, and trustee re-shuffle

Top table: from the left, Vijay Vaghela, Joanna Matthews, Deborah Thomas, Gerald Mowbray, Roy White (pic: Bill Rowntree)

Posted: November 2nd, 2017

THE BIG news of the day was confirmation of the ongoing takeover bid by Trinity Mirror for Northern & Shell – which includes the Express and Star newspapers.

This was confirmed to the AMP’s reasonably well-attended recent annual general meeting at the St Alban’s Centre in Holborn, London, by Trinity Mirror’s group finance director Vijay Vaghela, who was the principal speaker.

There would be back-office consolidation for cost savings, he said, but the national titles would remain separate.

Questions were asked from the floor about debt levels.  On the one hand the pension scheme was in deficit.  On the other, the company felt able to borrow large sums in order to buy out N&S.  How come?

Vijay said that obviously they would not spend money on anything they did not feel they could turn a profit from.  He was bullish and felt it worth the risk.  He said they were taking much advice and there were many detailed meetings going on and they would not rush into anything without very careful consideration.

His refreshing (and hopefully well-placed?) optimism was a far cry from Joanna Matthews’s earlier response to a letter from AMP secretary Gerald Mowbray, voicing concerns about pension funding in light of the deal.  Joanna, the Independent Chairman of the Trustee Board, wrote back saying “our trustees have not raised the issue with the newspaper…” Extraordinary.

Vijay told the meeting that “Trinity governance will go round the N&S pension schemes.”  They seemed to be in a significantly better funding situation because, as someone pointed out from the floor, “they had not had a Bob Maxwell”.

Joanna was the second speaker and was able to point up the success of the merger of our three pension schemes into a single MGN pension scheme.  She then announced that she was standing down after eight years, but would mentor the new independent chairman for six months.

The results of the actuarial review on the present pension-deficits funding agreement are expected before the end of March, 2018.

Joanna also announced the retirement from the Trustee Board of Charles Collier-Wright, a long-serving ‘A’ director.  He will not be replaced, and this re-balances the board following the retirement of ‘B’ director Andrew Watson.

AMP chairman Deborah Thomas then gave her report in which she voiced her worries about the proposed re-organisation of the Trustee Board – now that there is only one scheme to administer – with special concern over the Scottish constituency.

Our member-elected trustees, Andrew Golden and Alan Burns, both spoke.  In an impassioned speech, Alan took the opportunity to urge all members, indeed all MGN pensioners, to respond to the latest Trustee newsletter, Pensions News, and express their views or concerns about the proposed Trustee Board changes.

When the meeting closed and members poured out into the street, the sky had turned a strange apocalyptic yellow with a heavy red sun.  Does this augur well?  Watch this space.

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