Dale's bid in focus at pools company

The board committee of Littlewoods, the retail and football pools company, met yesterday to discuss the pounds 1.2bn indicative offer for the company made by its former chief executive, Barry Dale, writes Nigel Cope.

The meeting took place as Dawnay Day, the merchant bank representing Mr Dale's consortium, issued a formal statement confirming that it had made a "serious but indicative" proposal to the company, although it did not yet constitute a formal offer.

It is believed that the bank was forced by the Takeover Panel to release a statement after details of the proposals were disclosed earlier this week.

Some members of the Moores family, which controls the privately owned Littlewoods empire, were present at yesterday's meeting. The board, led by chairman Leonard van Geest, is now expected to discuss its findings with the 32 family members who own every share in Littlewoods, Britain's largest privately owned company.

Dawnay Day confimed that it sent a letter to Littlewoods' adviser, Kleinwort Benson, last Friday. It said it hoped to work with the Littlewoods board and Kleinwort Benson with a view to developing the proposal into a firm commitment in due course.

Backers of the pounds 1.2bn bid, which include top City names such as Prudential, Candover, Electra Legal & General, believe the family members may be prepared to listen to an overture.

A 75 per cent vote is required before a shareholder can sell to an outsider. Some younger family members are thought to be keen to realise the value of their stakes. However others believe that the company may be less well disposed to a consortium that includes Mr Dale, who was dismissed last year.

No rival bids have yet materialised, although some believe Mr Dale's approach may open a debate on the issue within the Moores family and flush out other offers.

Although Littlewoods, which includes the retail and football pools business, has been a poor performer, industry observers believe that with more dynamic and modern management the company's performance can be improved. Group profits were flat at pounds 116m last year on sales of pounds 2.75bn.

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