JOHNSTON Press, the Edinburgh-based newspaper group, yesterday bolstered its portfolio of local weekly titles after agreeing to buy Score Press for pounds -155m in cash.

Score, which is currently owned by Scottish Radio Holdings, publishes 45 local weeklies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Johnston is buying the titles from Emap in a side deal following the media group's agreed takeover of SRH.

Of the titles it is acquiring, 16 are in Scotland - including the Angus County Press, Galloway Gazette and Stornoway Gazette - 24 are in Northern Ireland, and five in the Irish Republic.

Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press, was confident the group will not have to divest any titles over competition concerns, because the bulk of the new titles are in regions where it has little or no presence.

The deal brings the Galloway Gazette and Stornoway Gazette back into the Johnston fold after it sold the titles to Score when it acquired Regional Independent Media, which publishes the Yorkshire Post, for pounds -560m in 2002.

Asked whether he would offload these titles again, Bowdler last night said: "We have no plans to sell them again.

"They are good newspaper titles and they will be an integral part of the group."

Pressed on whether there would be any job cuts to flow from the deal, Bowdler said:

"There are no overlaps, so from that sense there are none (cuts).

But, we will have much bigger purchasing power, which we intend to make work to our advantage."

Bowdler pointed to the huge growth potential in the profitable markets of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as one of the main attractions of the deal.

"Obviously, we are looking forward to getting to know the business better and investing in it, " he added.

In the last financial year to September 2004, Score reported revenues of pounds -35.1m, and operating profits of pounds -11.2m.

The Scottish company expects that the purchase of Score will be earnings enhancing - exluding exceptional acquisition related items - in the current financial year.

Shares in Johnston Press firmed 6.5p to close at 488p last night.