Britain’s biggest high street lender is lining up bankers to launch a £600m auction of the Telegraph newspapers and The Spectator magazine within days amid a bitter row with the titles’ long-standing owners.
Sky News has learnt that Lloyds Banking Group is being advised by Lazard on its options for some of Britain’s best-known media assets.
Industry sources said on Tuesday night that Lloyds planned to appoint another large investment bank to kick off an immediate process to sell the Daily and Sunday Telegraph titles.
That would kickstart one of the most hotly contested media auctions in Britain for years and would formally end the Barclay family’s nearly two-decade ownership of the broadsheet newspapers.
One insider said that Lloyds had already appointed AlixPartners as the receiver to B.UK Ltd, a Bermuda-based entity.
That appointment will pave the way for the bank to take control of a cascade of group companies, including those which directly own the Telegraph and Spectator titles.
Barring a last-minute agreement with the current owners, Lloyds intends to pursue this course as early as Wednesday, enabling it to remove directors appointed by the Barclay family, according to the insider.
Among those removed is expected to be Aidan Barclay, the chairman of the newspaper group.
However, the bank does not plan to place Telegraph Media Group or its direct parent, Press Acquisitions, into administration themselves.
Aidan Barclay is the nephew of Sir Frederick Barclay, the octogenarian who along with his late brother Sir David engineered the takeover of the Telegraph in 2004.
Sir Frederick is currently embroiled in a £100m court battle over his divorce settlement.
The Barclays previously owned the Ritz hotel in London, and still owns Very Group, the online retailer.
The bombshell move has been triggered by Lloyds’ dissatisfaction with the Barclays’ approach to repaying a loan which dates back to the pre-crisis era of large corporate loans issued by HBOS.
Lloyds rescued HBOS in 2008 and has been engaged in a dialogue with the Barclay family for some time.
The loans in question were for several hundred million pounds, and are believed to have been written down years ago, meaning that the proceeds of a sale could result in a capital boost for Lloyds.
Lloyds’ intention to force the Barclay-owned entity into receivership was first reported by The Times.
The bank declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the Barclay family said on Tuesday: “The loans in question are related to the family’s overarching ownership structure of its media assets.
“They do not, in any way, affect the operations or financial stability of Telegraph Media Group.
“The businesses within our portfolio continue to trade strongly, are run by independent management teams, are well capitalised with minimal debt and strong liquidity.
“They have no liability for any holding company liabilities, continue to operate as normal and are unaffected by issues in the holding company structure above them.
The spokesman added that Telegraph Media Group had been “performing extremely well and now has over 750,000 subscribers”.
“The company recorded a 25% increase in operating profit during 2021, has recently successfully acquired Chelsea Magazine company, and is progressing strongly towards meeting its targets.
“Speculation about the business entering administration is unfounded and irresponsible.”
AlixPartners declined to comment.