Around 30 NFRN members from across the UK marched to the wholesaler’s office at 7am with banners and t-shirts stating ‘Enough’s enough! End the carriage charge rip off’, before delivering a letter to Mr Bunting outlining 12 areas of concern.

These included carriage service charge (CSC) rises and calculations, publisher contributions to CSCs, publisher inbound times and poor service following the latest Hemel Hempstead rationalisation.

NFRN national president Linda Sood, national deputy vice president Stuart Reddish, chief executive Paul Baxter and news committee chairman John Parkinson met with Mr Bunting to discuss problems faced by retailers.

“Service charges can’t carry on the way they are. Members are stopping news because it’s not viable,” said Mrs Sood following the meeting. “We’ve asked for members to get their CSC back when Smiths fails to deliver the product and Jon Bunting said he’ll look at this.”

Mr Bunting said he had also pledged to take action on service out of Hemel Hempstead, ahead of meeting with the NFRN again in two weeks’ time.

“Jon Bunting didn’t say ‘you’re wrong’. He listened and absolutely agreed,” said Mr Reddish.

“He’s addressing our issues, some more urgently than others. I would be surprised if something doesn’t happen quickly.

“If at the next meeting nothing’s been done, it will be a very different meeting.

“Today wasn’t the whole campaign. It was just the start. There are other demonstrations planned all over the UK, but they’ve been put on hold and we’ve given Smiths News the opportunity to fix some of the issues.”

Mr Bunting told RN he would bring in extra resource from across the network to “correct the service” out of Hemel Hempstead.

“I knew it was unacceptable because I spent the whole day there on Thursday talking to staff and the management team,” he said.

“But I didn’t realise how strongly retailers felt in order to march here today.”

Mr Baxter said the pressing issue for wholesalers to address is carriage charges.

“Smiths News has to deliver to a standard that is acceptable for retailers to do their jobs properly,” he said. “Why should we be charged for something we’re not getting?”

How the Hemel Hempstead rationalisation is affecting us:

Hemel Hempstead is in utter meltdown. I’ve lived through BJB and Premier Park, two chaotic rationalisations, and this is far worse. It’s a complete and utter shambles. The supply chain is not fit for purpose. It worked 10 years ago when retailers paid a nominal charge. Something’s got to give. It’s at a tipping point.
Peter Wagg, News on the Wharf, Canary Wharf

Five representatives from the London district came today. Our main concern is Hemel Hempstead because 3,000 members have suffered late deliveries for six or seven weeks now. Papers are regularly arriving at 7am, some days as late as 11am. It was good to have the opportunity to talk to senior managers from Smiths.
Pravin Shah, 7am to 10pm, Luton

Jon Bunting told me the problems with Hemel Hempstead will take weeks to solve and it won’t happen overnight. But if I don’t see an improvement for weeks, it will be a real problem. My magazines are always a day late, which means I have hundreds of customers going potty. Even the drivers are fed up.
Kamal Thaker, Top Shop News, Edgware