Desmond makes his intentions clear with Five management cull

Just like he did at the Express, Richard Desmond has moved rapidly to clear the decks at Five.

Last Updated: 08 Apr 2011

Richard Desmond hasn’t wasted any time making his presence felt at Five: it emerged this morning that no fewer than seven of the channel’s nine senior execs, including CEO Dawn Airey, will be leaving the company as it prepares for life under its new regime. Desmond is apparently planning to strip out £20m of costs from Five, which could mean the departure of about a quarter of its staff. Those who remember his early days at the Express (which saw a mass exodus of its best journalists) might see this as history repeating itself. But Desmond insists that he wants Five to compete with the big boys of the industry – and is willing to spend £1.5bn over the next five years to make it happen…

In a statement released this morning, Five confirmed that Airey will be leaving the channel to take on a role at former owner RTL, as expected. But the extent of the general management cull did take everyone by surprise: five other directors and the head of HR will also be leaving, leaving just two of the current executive board in situ. However, they’ll all be hanging around for a few months to oversee the transition – while Airey will apparently spearhead a ‘cost efficiency programme’ designed to identify savings from the tie-up with Northern & Shell, Desmond’s media empire.

The Guardian reckons he’s trying to strip out some £20m in costs – and since £9m of these have to come from the wage bill, you can the benefit of this ‘bloodbath’ (as one slightly hysterical ‘source’ described it to the paper. Apparently there’ll be ‘between 60 and 80’ job losses across the company as a whole – about a quarter of the total.

Desmond has form in this area: when he took over the struggling Express ten years ago, he rapidly slashed about a quarter of its editorial jobs – editor Rosie Boycott (and most of its other top hacks) were out of the door faster than you could say ‘Red Hot Wives’. Many were replaced by much more junior – and therefore cheaper – staff. So can we expect work experience kids to be running HR and reading the news on Five before too long?

Well, the man behind Television X and OK Magazine insists there’ll be no drop-off in quality at Five (an alarming thought in itself). Today’s statement says there will be ‘a focus of resources on programme and content development’ and an ‘ambitious new investment plan that will see the channel go toe-to-toe with the biggest players in the TV world’. In fact, Northern & Shell says it’s prepared to pump in £300m per year for the next five years – a whopping £1.5bn in total. No doubt Five’s top talent – such as it is – will vote with their feet on that one.

In today's bulletin:
Growth down, inflation up - Bank of England adds to gloom
Desmond makes his intentions clear with Five management cull
Old ideas generate fresh profits for Disney
Editor's blog: Getting the UK out of the doldrums
Work life devours family dinner times

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