ECI prepares bids for Shearings and restaurant chains

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The Independent Online

ECI Partners is preparing for a spending spree in the leisure sector. The London and Manchester-based, mid-market, private-equity group is believed to be considering bids for Shearings, the Wigan-based coach-holiday company, and the Ha Ha Bar & Grill and La Tasca chains, which are being sold by Bay Restaurant.

Shearings has asked big-four accountant Deloitte, its regular adviser, to conduct a strategic review of the business, which is expected to lead to an auction. It has denied the likelihood of a sale, but industry sources confirm the company has been "soft marketed" to trade and private equity groups. The FTSE 100 3i, the private equity owner, which an industry source said had "done a good job" with Shearings, is thought to be keen to cash in on the business.

Ha Ha and La Tasca are to be sold in separate auctions, which are expected to kick off this month. An ECI spokesman declined to comment.

Shearings Group, best known for its budget coach tours around Britain, benefited from its Coast & Country Hotels breaks which it launched last year, in which it invested £7m to attract younger customers.

3i group bought into Shearings five years ago and its results in 2008, showed a pre-tax profit of just under £1m.