Interflora members say it with votes and back the 3i buyout

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The Independent Online

Interflora's members have said it with votes, by resoundingly backing a controversial private equity bid to buy the flower business.

Interflora's members have said it with votes, by resoundingly backing a controversial private equity bid to buy the flower business.

A special meeting held yesterday to vote on the deal handed victory to 3i, which opponents of the deal believe has been allowed to buy Interflora at a knock-down price.

The outcome left opponents of the plan in shock after they had fought to derail the bid, which will end the not-for-profit structure of the group and pass control of the business from its 1,850 florist members to 3i.

More than 87 per cent of the votes cast were in favour of the bid. The proposal needed the backing of three-quarters of those voting, a hurdle which had led opponents to confidently predict that it would be defeated.

Even the Interflora board, which has supported the £23m offer from 3i, was left stunned by the vote. Although only a couple of hundred members turned up at the extraordinary meeting, at a hotel in Birmingham yesterday, participation by proxy vote was high. More than 85 per cent of those eligible to vote did so.

Steve Richards, the chief executive of Interflora, said: "This is a very good day for members. Huge numbers of them voted for this."

The result needs to be confirmed at a High Court hearing, scheduled for 4 February, but that should be a formality. Members will each receive between £5,000 and £12,000, when the deal goes through.

David Adair, who headed the rebel Interflora Stakeholders Association, said: "Maybe it was a slow Christmas, which meant that people were more tempted by the money. But there's no such thing as a free lunch. If you're getting money now, you'll pay for it later. Interflora has been given away at a bargain price."

Another rebel, Alex Lyons, said she would now concentrate on other business interests, as her florist business would become less attractive. "3i has got to recoup its investment ... I have a feeling that in a couple of years I'll be saying 'I told you so' but I won't get any pleasure from it," she said.

Under the deal, 3i will emerge with half the company, while Interflora's directors will get a 15 per cent stake for a payment of just £200,000. The remaining 35 per cent interest will be kept by the members.

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