Web offset triple-whammy

For a fully-paid up
member of the web offset watcher’s society, last week’s deluge of news was
really something.

The dust has barely
begun to settle on the swathe of announcements from the ‘big three’ in publication printing: Wyndeham (remember they are
now the UK’s biggest web offset printer), Goodhead (owner of the country’s most
modern mag printing site) and Polestar (owner of some of the oldest kit in
the business). The human cost in terms of lost jobs and lost income appears likely to be significant. 

Where to start?
That Wyndeham owner Walstead will not replace the fire-damaged Lithoman at
Heron is not necessarily a huge surprise. Even though rather unfortunately this
was the newest press at the Essex site, they have plenty of other presses
elsewhere in the group. And I’m sure the insurance payout will be a welcome
addition to the coffers at owner Walstead, which needs to keep up with those revised
payments to St Ives that kicked in in December.  

Perhaps a bigger
issue for them is the fragmented nature of those web plants. Heron and
Peterborough in East Anglia, Southernprint in Poole (amazingly still going), and
further west Plymouth (still printing and binding) and Roche. The next
interesting thing will be what happens when those short-term leases at Roche
and Plymouth, agreed as part of the sale deal with St Ives, come up for renewal
in a couple of months.

Last weekend I had
a lovely cup of coffee in Sir John Madejski’s garden at the V&A, where I
sat and pondered the nature of wealth. Reading between the lines of the
Goodhead proposal that staff need to take a pay cut for the business to be
sustainable, one has to wonder whether Sir John is unwilling or unable to
continue bankrolling the losses at the company. He’s sold a lot of his assets
over the past couple of years, and it’s hard to see which of his remaining
businesses are throwing off sufficient cash to underpin his expensive web
offset odyssey. The head-scratching thing here is that BGP now has the kit and
the volume of work that was supposed to herald a golden era of profitability.
Someone, somewhere appears to have plugged the wrong numbers into a
spreadsheet. Or perhaps, if the price is wrong it doesn’t matter how slick the
kit is. You might as well print it on an old mangle.

Which brings me to
Polestar. After tinkering with shifts last year, the proposed closure of
Colchester is the sort of major move that has long been expected. Two schools
of thought: owner Sun Capital has provided funds that will allow the group to
at last restructure its ageing web platform. Could dreams of a web offset shed
next to the Sheffield gravure shed come to fruition? Second option: the Colchester
closure notice is a way of bringing in drastic changes to terms and conditions
that will mean the plant stays open with a vastly reduced cost base and more
flexible working patterns. If it does close, one could imagine Polestar
cherry-picking the contracts it wants to try and keep within the group, which
could make life interesting for some customers.

What said customers
think of all this is a topic for another day.


  • It goes to show that all UK web buyers need a disaster recovery plan. Buyers can’t assume that other plants will want their work at current prices. The UK web restructuring has a long way to go yet, I think.