Lifeline for care homes operator Southern Cross

The landlords of care homes operator Southern Cross have thrown the stricken company a lifeline by saying they are prepared to make significant financial concessions to the company.

But the Southern Cross Landlords' Committee also said they wanted the Government and the company's lenders to share the financial pain in helping to rescue the company.

The committee, which represents the 80 landlords of the group's 752 care homes, announced it had put together an outline proposal that it hopes will help ensure the company's survival.

Darlington-based Southern Cross, the UK's largest care home operator with 31,000 elderly residents, has been struggling under a £202 million annual rent burden as its own income falls with public sector customers making cutbacks.

It recently announced it would cut its rent payments by an average of 30% over the next four months to buy it some breathing space.

It is understood that the proposals drawn up at a meeting of the landlords effectively say they would be prepared to take some kind of long-term rent cut on the condition that the Government and the banks "share the pain" by writing off some of the money they are owed by the company.

Southern Cross's main lenders are Barclays and taxpayer-backed Lloyds Banking Group, which are understood to be owed about £40 million between them. The taxman is reported to be owed £20 million by the company.

The proposals will also allow landlords who want to take their care homes back from Southern Cross to run the homes themselves or find other users.

Southern Cross, which employs some 44,000 staff, is likely to be left with a much smaller number of homes than it currently runs.

Daniel Smith, chairman of the Southern Cross Landlords' Committee, said: "A meeting of the Southern Cross landlords approved a draft outline proposal for the speedy resolution of the current situation.

"The landlords have agreed in principle that they will make significant financial concessions in order to achieve a sustainable solution.

"This proposal will now be put to the Government, Southern Cross and Southern Cross's main lenders for their consideration.

"Our overriding concern at this time remains minimising disruption and concern for residents and their families."

It is likely that the proposal from the landlords will meet with resistance from the Government. Business Secretary Vince Cable said last week: "There is no way we can bail out the company."

Southern Cross recently revealed plans to cut 3,000 jobs, including more than 300 nurses, while 1,275 care staff, 700 catering posts, 440 domestic jobs and 238 maintenance roles could also go as part of its business revamp launched 18 months ago.

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