Airtours' bid for Owners escapes MMC reference

THE pounds 225m takeover bid by Airtours for Owners Abroad, two leading British holiday companies, has escaped an investigation by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission despite a call for one by Professor Sir Bryan Carsberg, Director General of Fair Trading.

Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, yesterday overruled Sir Bryan's advice. He said the competition issues were insufficient to justify a reference to the MMC.

The decision met with sharp responses from the Consumers' Association and Nigel Griffiths, Labour MP for Edinburgh South and shadow consumer affairs spokesman. Stephen Locke, director of policy at the Consumers' Association, said: 'It's baffling. Given the range of concerns that have been raised, there is an overwhelming case for referral.' The main concern was that Airtours, with Owners, would control more than 25 per cent of the package holiday market.

Mr Griffiths is also calling for an inquiry into any possible 'behind-the scenes activities in the DTI' in clearing the bid, and into the role of Neil Hamilton, Minister for Corporate Affairs and MP for Tatton, the constituency where David Crossland, chairman of Airtours, lives.

'There must be an investigation into the role of the minister, and what part he played during December, January and the first week of February,' he said yesterday. On 15 February Mr Hamilton stood aside from any decision taken on the bid. A DTI spokesman added: 'There was not any conflict of interest. He stood aside to avoid any misunderstanding.'

Government clearance for the merger between the second and third-largest holiday companies fuelled speculation in the City of a higher offer from Airtours.

There was also speculation that the German controllers of Thomas Cook, the travel agency that wants to forge a link with Owners, might make a counter- offer. Thomas Cook declined to comment. Owners' shares climbed by 13p to 129p compared with the 113p value placed on them by Airtours' three-for- eight share swap terms.

Howard Klein, chairman of Owners, which sells holidays under several brands, including Sovereign, Falcon and Tjareborg, said: 'Now that the element of uncertainty has been removed, the debate can focus on the fundamental value of Owners.

'While Airtours has stated that it recognises Owners has considerable potential, Airtours has still not put forward any strategy for a combined group and its offers grossly undervalue the company.'

David Crossland, chairman of Airtours, said: 'We remain firmly of the view that the combination of Airtours and Owners will prove beneficial to both consumers and shareholders alike.'

The 60-day bid clock has restarted after being suspended on Monday on day 37 awaiting the DTI's decision. Tomorrow is the last day, in the absence of a higher offer, that Owners can release fresh financial information.

View from City Road, page 27

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power