Major firm bids for QinetiQ

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The US private equity company Carlyle Group, which boasts former Prime Minister John Major as its European chairman, is teaming up with consultancy firm WS Atkins to launch a bid for QinetiQ, the Government's defence research business.

The Carlyle Group is controversial as it once had members of the Bin Laden family as investors, and also employs George Bush senior, which is said to conflict with its defence interests in the US.

The Government is selling off 49 per cent of QinetiQ and is thought to value the whole company at £500m. Twelve companies, including private equity firms Cinven and Candover, are looking at the information memorandum of QinetiQ and have until 20 May to submit a bid.

Foreign companies had been excluded from the process but Carlyle's teaming with WS Atkins should help. WS Atkins is a company trusted by the Government as it carries out other top-secret work.

"We are looking at how Atkins can add value to any bids and what role a company like Atkins can play," said Robin Southwell, WS Atkins' chief executive, who declined to comment on who he was partnering.

But one senior source said the two companies were set to bid, valuing QinetiQ at between £250m and £400m.