SALVATION may be at hand for staff at the Daily Telegraph, where circulation has finally slipped below that of the Times: the weirdo Barclay brothers are preparing to sell the paper and its Sunday sister, after a calamitous 11-year ownership during which its sales and reputation have both plummeted.
Deloitte is crawling all over the business to assess its value and the Barclays are talking to banks about a likely sale. Deloitte beancounters are interviewing staff to find out what they do and taking a keen interest in the commercial arm run by Dave King, whose digital shortcomings may be a handicap in a company keen to boast of its “digital prowess” to likely buyers.
Worse is the plight of doddery CEO Murdoch “Shifty McGifty” MacLennan, who struggles to use an iPhone, never mind know anything about the brave new digital world. One of the accountants confides that he found Shifty “utterly unimpressive and hard to follow”. The Deloitte money men have, however, been impressed with the “high productivity” of hacks churning out reams of stories for the pisspoor website.
Advisers are warning the Barclays that they are highly unlikely to get back the £665m they paid for the titles. Having seen the stupendous sales of the FT and Business Insider, the brothers hoped they could make a killing, overlooking the crucial point that those are financial publications with a specialist audience.
So who will take the Telegraph off their hands? The twins have been told their best hope is a Russian oligarch keen to get his millions out of Putin’s Russia or an Indian tycoon keen to join London high society. Discreet soundings have been taken with Lakshmi Mittal, but he shows little enthusiasm. Chairman Aidan Barclay hoped that years of shameless kowtowing to China might yield a gazillionaire from Shanghai, but most seem to have more sense.
The number one candidate is arms dealer Wafic Saïd, the Syrian-born fixer who helped Margaret Thatcher conclude the biggest arms deal in British history, Al-Yamamah, 30 years ago, and has since founded Oxford University’s business school. A friend of the Barclays and of Telegraph columnists Charles Moore and Simon Heffer, he has cash to burn – and a huge desire to seem respectable.
Needless to say, the hacks just want to see the end of the Barclays’ dismal reign.
PS: The Telegraph was noticeably cool last week about the idea of prosecuting those involved in the disastrous HBOS takeover. Why?
While most respectable City opinion said there should be punitive action against the banking rogues, roly-poly pundit James Quinn said “a renewed witch hunt for [Andy] Hornby and others, seven years after the event, will not serve anyone well, and will simply perpetuate the unhelpful negativity towards a key part of the British economy”.
The tone was in keeping with the Tel’s slavish support for all things banking – but there was an added reason for the crappy City section to pull its punches: the HBOS banker Peter Cummings, banned from the City for life and fined £500,000 for his part in the fiasco, is a personal friend of Aidan Barclay – and helped arrange the finance which allowed the weirdo brothers to buy the Telegraph!