National Express joins race for West Midlands Travel

National Express, the acquisitive coach operator and owner of East Midlands Airport, has made a takeover approach to West Midlands Travel, a bus company valued at more than £160m. West Midlands Travel, which runs more than 1,800 buses in the Midlands, has also had takeover approaches from four other suitors since the New Year, following delays in its flotation plans. Two of them are publicly-quoted transport companies.

West Midlands Travel was bought by the management and employees in 1991 from the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority for £70m. The company has been considering coming to the stock market via a share flotation since last spring. Last summer it appointed financial advisers, BZW, to look to a flotation this spring. However the flotation plans have stalled, partly because of market conditions, and the advisers have now said the company must get its year-end financial results - due in March - out of the way first. It seems unlikely the flotation will go ahead before September.

"We appear to be on a very leisurely track at the moment," said Don Colston, the company's chairman, adding that the delays had "widened the window of opportunity for other companies to court us. The longer the wait, the more likely that somebody will come in."

Shares in the company are distributed among 5,000 employees and management. Its turnover is £150-£200m and its net indebtedness is about £50m.

The bus industry was deregulated in 1986 and since then a number of bus companies, including Stagecoach, Badgerline and the GRT Bus Group, have come to the stock market.

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