It's your round in the City sell-off markets

MILES TEMPLEMAN, the head of Whitbread's beer company, will need all his finely-honed marketing skills to sell the brewer to the City. If the group's brewing business is floated off or sold, the ambitious Mr Templeman could have a chance of running his own independent company.

A former marketing executive with some of the biggest brand-builders in the business, including Procter & Gamble and Levi Strauss, his experience has come to the fore in promoting Whitbread's beer brands such as Stella Artois, Boddingtons and Murphys.

However, all the slick marketing in the world cannot disguise the fact that the beer sales are in long-term decline. Whitbread sits in an uncomfortable third spot in this shrinking market behind the country's two largest brewers, Scottish & Newcastle and Bass.

The total number of pints of beer sold has fallen by around a quarter since the late 1970s according to the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association. One leading City drinks analyst said: "Beer will be a very tough market for the foreseeable future. As you can tell I am not very enthusiastic about brewers."

The huge new independent pub chains that have emerged have demanded a better deal from brewers, threatening to move their business elsewhere if they don't get it. Whitbread has the advantage of brewing some of the most recognisable beers in the country. However, the picture is muddied by the fact that Whitbread brews some of its brands under licence. The value of the business depends on these contracts being renewed.

If the Whitbread beer company does end up going it alone it will have gone full circle - harking back to the days when Samuel Whitbread started up as an independent brewer in 1742.

However, there is one big difference. Sam was looking to tap into a new market - Mr Miles will have to tap into new investors.