Nord Anglia to sell non-core operations and buy nurseries

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The Independent Online

Nord Anglia Education, the UK's leading private education company, invited offers for its university, accountancy and publishing operations yesterday as it narrows its focus to running nursery, primary and secondary schools.

Analysts said the businesses up for sale could attract offers of more than £20m, compared with the £18m Nord Anglia paid for them three years ago.

Kevin McNeany, the founder of Nord Anglia, revealed the plans along with the £5.8m purchase of Bright Horizons, an operator of 10 day-care nurseries in the South and West of England. The acquisition will double the size of the Nord Anglia's own pre-school operations, which are currently focused on the North-west, Midlands and Yorkshire under the Princess Christian name. It also runs a further 12 nurseries attached to private schools that it owns.

Demand for nursery care has increased rapidly in recent years as more mothers decide to return to work after having children. Provision of services has lagged that demand for some time. Nord Anglia said that most of Bright Horizons' nurseries make a profit but the business as a whole fell into the red last year as it funded the opening of two new nurseries. Pre-tax losses totalled £290,000 in the year to May, compared with a profit of £70,000 in the previous year, on a 37 per cent rise in turnover to £3.39m.

Analysts believe Nord Anglia is well placed to cash in on the Government's plans to allow more private companies to move into the state sector. It will become the first profit-making company to manage a state school after winning a ground-breaking contract to run Abbeylands comprehensive, in Surrey, for seven years.

Shares in Nord Anglia, which also runs key education services for several London councils including Hackney, Haringey and Westminster, rose 3.5p to 265p. The company currently makes £1.5m profit a year from publicly funded schools.

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