SCOTS political news magazine Holyrood is set to be bought by a company owned by Lord Ashcroft, the British-Belizean billionaire and pollster who once bank rolled the Conservative Party.

Media group Political Holdings, which already has Conservative Home current affairs site within its portfolio, has agreed to buy the Edinburgh-based political magazine as part of a £4.5m deal to acquire a range of operations from the data and intelligence business Merit Group plc.

The acquisition also involves the purchase of website PoliticsHome; magazines including The House in Westminster; The Parliament in Brussels; the professional publications Civil Service World, Training Journal and PublicTechnology.

Political Holdings is owned by Lord Ashcroft, who once donated more than £8m to keep the Conservative Party afloat, and is its former deputy chairman and treasurer.

Holyrood was created as a politically independent publication,  following the advent of devolution in the UK in 1999 the magazine to provide Scottish Parliament, as well as interviews with leading political figures. 

Political Holdings, which will take control of the media, events and training operations of Merit has pledged to maintain the political neutrality of the brands it is buying.   They have said to have generated revenue of £9.3 million and net assets of £0.5 million as at 31 March 2022.

Merit says it expects the deal to complete in the current calendar year.

It remains subject to the satisfaction of certain conditions, including satisfaction of financing by Political Holdings.

It said after the deal is completed, it will use the the net proceeds to pay down its net debt which at September 30, 2022 was £3.2m. It will also be used to fund the growth plans of its ongoing business intelligence operations.

Merit's decision has come after an internal review of its operations earlier this year, in which the board concluded that it was "overly diverse and complex given its market size" and that it needed to focus its future strategy on its core data and intelligence offerings.

The Herald:

Lord Ashcroft

These included Dods Political Intelligence service with over 800 subscribers in the UK and Europe.

Merit says it believes that the media, events and training operations it is selling will benefit from the focus that will come from being part of a company specialising in media and events.

David Beck, chief executive of Merit Group plc, said: "This is an important step for Merit. The disposal will allow us to focus on the parts of the Group with recurring or subscription revenue, attractive margins and strong cash generation. Following the Disposal we will become fully focussed on the business intelligence sector.

"This transaction...will mean we have raised £5m from the disposal of non core assets. When set against our market capitalisation of approximately £8.5m these are obviously significant strategic developments."

Mark Wallace, chief executive of Political Holdings, said: “This deal opens an exciting new era for us and for the brands which will be joining our group.

"Political Holdings specialises in insightful, expert content and events that illuminate politics, government and the democratic process, so the operations we are acquiring are a natural fit for our growing business.

"The resulting group will have great potential to grow each of its constituent parts further and faster, combining our existing expertise with a host of new perspectives, covering a diverse range of issues and institutions, and maintaining the political neutrality of the acquired brands. We are very much looking forward to welcoming and working with our new colleagues.”

Made a life peer in 2000, Lord Ashcroft was the subject of a political storm when he confirmed that he was still a “non-dom,” meaning his permanent home was not in the UK, so he did not pay UK tax on overseas earnings.

Seven years ago, when Lord Ashcroft retired from the House of Lords but kept his peerage, he had donated more than £10m to the Conservative Party as a life-long supporter.

He was deputy chairman when David Cameron was leader of the opposition, funding private polling for the Tories in marginal seats.

In the late 1990s the then Michael Ashcroft, already a Tory donor, was rejected twice for a peerage by the political honours scrutiny committee because of his tax status.

In 2000, having made private assurances about his tax affairs to the Tory leadership, he became a peer.

Lord Ashcroft parted ways with Mr Cameron soon after the 2010 election and reinvented himself as an independent pollster.