Telegraph reveals £278m loan hit from Barclay family amid ownership crisis

The newspaper group said underlying profit and subscriber growth was strong despite a ‘backdrop of uncertainty’ over ownership.

The Telegraph has faced an ownership crisis since last year
The Telegraph has faced an ownership crisis since last year (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Telegraph newspaper took a £278 million hit last year on a loan withdrawn by its billionaire owners, the Barclay family, which it said is unlikely to be repaid.

In its annual accounts, the media company said the loan had pushed it to a £244.6 million loss for the 2023 calendar year.

That is despite the news group growing its turnover 5% year-on-year to £268 million, helped by a sharp uplift in digital subscriptions and advertising income.

Telegraph Media Group, which also owns the Spectator magazine and the Chelsea Magazine Company, has been gripped by an ownership crisis since last year.

Lloyds Banking Group took control of the business amid a dispute with the Barclay family over overdue loans of £1.2 billion.

Later in 2023, RedBird IMI, an Abu Dhabi-backed fund, reached a deal with the Barclay family to take control of the group by paying off the debts.

However, in March, the Government said it would bring forward legislation that would block such state-backed takeover deals in the industry.

As a result, a sale process remains ongoing, creating what new chief executive Anna Jones, who joined in January, called “a backdrop of uncertainty surrounding its future ownership”.

The £278 million hit revealed on Wednesday is part of a loan extracted by the Barclay family, which is understood to have been deemed unrecoverable.

The Telegraph’s accounts said that as part of the attempted sale, it carried out a “detailed review” of historic transactions between TMG and “related parties”.

The review found “potential irregularities in the recording of such transactions”.

“There is a potential risk of future possible claims against the company in respect of such transactions,” it added.

Amid the crisis, TMG hit one million paid subscribers across its media outlets last year, described as an important strategic milestone for the company. In April, The Telegraph won news website of the year at the Press Awards.

The media industry has been hit by sharp declines in print circulation, changing readership habits due to the rise of social media and plunging advertising revenue in recent years.

Ms Jones said the growth in subscribers underlined the company’s “strength and resilience”.

“We want to deepen the relationship with our subscribers and cement our position as an authoritative and trusted source to guide them through their daily lives,” she said.

“Our quality journalism continues to underpin the success of the business and support its underlying financial health.”

Without the loan hit, operating profit would have increased by 35% to £54 million, the company said.