Barr to auction coach division

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The Independent Online
Barr & Wallace Arnold Trust said yesterday it was inviting offers for its coach holidays division, opening the door for the business's management to table a rival bid to a controversial offer from Leisureplus, owner of rival Shearings holiday group. Hambros, the merchant bank, is conducting an auction for the division among interested parties, of whom there are thought to be at least 10.

The proposed sale of the coach operation, which would leave Barr as a pure motor dealer, has caused bitter acrimony in the company's northern heartland, where the Wallace Arnold name is seen as being as Yorkshire as its pudding. Angry employees have taken out full-page advertisements in local papers opposing the disposal and picketed board meetings in a campaign as bruising for the company as a bitter boardroom row two years ago between rival factions of the ruling Barr family.

At the heart of the row is the belief that if Shearings, a former division of Rank, acquires the operation, up to 1,000 jobs could be at risk. The mood of the workforce is markedly different from the atmosphere late last year when it looked likely that Barr would be buying Shearings from Rank and the jobs at risk were those of the Lancashire company.

Richard Bell, a company spokesman, refused to comment yesterday on the value of the coach business but analysts believed it could be worth around pounds 35m.

Investment column, page 26