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Former Johnston Press boss joins luxury yacht firm

Ashley Highfield has been appointed at Oyster Yachts after formally quitting the Yorkshire Post and Scotsman publisher.

Former Johnston Press boss Ashley Highfield has joined the board of a luxury yacht firm as non-executive director after leaving the embattled publisher.

Mr Highfield took up the post at Oyster Yachts – which was recently rescued from administration – after formally quitting Johnston Press on Tuesday following the firm’s annual general meeting.

Details of his appointment at Oyster were revealed after Johnston Press confirmed on Tuesday it was in talks over a debt refinancing deal that could see it offload its under-funded pension scheme to the pensions regulator.

But it did not comment on reports the restructuring could also see it hand control of the publisher to US hedge fund Golden Tree Asset Management.

The restructuring discussions comes as it looks at ways to refinance £220 million worth of debt that become repayable in June next year.

Golden Tree owns the majority of the debts owed by Johnston Press.

It announced Mr Highfield’s resignation last month, citing family reasons and “in order to fulfil his plans to transition to be a ‘plural’ non-executive director as the next phase of his career”.

Mr Highfield, who had been at the helm since 2011 and spearheaded the acquisition of the i newspaper, has been replaced by finance chief David King.

But his departure has come at a difficult time for Johnston, which recently signalled a fresh round of cost-cutting, saying a challenging market has put pressure on revenues, which dropped nearly 10% over 2017.

And shares tumbled on Tuesday after its latest trading update saw it log a fall in revenues and warn of “continued pressure” amid new data protection rules and paper prices.

The group – whose publications also include The Scotsman – said in a trading update that revenues slumped 9% between January 1 and May 31, despite a “strong performance” from the i newspaper.

The position at Oyster Yachts marks Mr Highfield’s first non-executive appointment since leaving Johnston.

He joins other board members at the firm including former Formula 1 team boss Eddie Jordan and Oyster chief executive Richard Hadida – the gaming entrepreneur who bought the Southampton and Norfolk-based business after it went into administration earlier this year.

Mr Highfield is a keen sailor, as is Mr Jordan.

On announcing the board line-up, Mr Hadida said: “These appointments fit perfectly.

“They bring extensive industry expertise and corporate experience.

“Most importantly, all board members are a great cultural fit.”

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