pounds 1.2bn Littlewoods bid gets blue-chip backing

Eyes on the prize: City names behind former chief executive who wants to buy out the founding family

NIGEL COPE

and CHRIS BLACKHURST

The battle for control of the Littlewoods retail and football pools business took a step forward yesterday when it emerged that Barry Dale, the former chief executive, has lined up powerful City backers to fund his pounds 1.2bn bid for the company.

It is the first time details of the consortium have become known and its membership adds weight to Mr Dale's attempts to wrest control of the privately owned group away from the founding Moores family.

The fresh development came as speculation grew that rival groups may also be interested in bidding for the company.

Mr Dale sent an offer document to Littlewoods' advisers Kleinwort Benson on Friday confirming his pounds 1.2bn offer. He is backed by blue chip venture capital groups, including the Prudential, Electra, Candover Investments, Legal & General and Apax Partners.

A list of banks, which includes Chemical Bank, Deutsche, Fuji and Nations Bank of the United States, has been lined up to assume the company's debts and the merchant bank Dawney Day is acting as adviser for the group.

Mr Dale's offer is believed to be worth 848p per ordinary share and 189p per preference share. This is thought to be a 70 per cent premium to the price received by Peter Moores, a family member who sold out last year. The deal values Littlewoods at a significant premium to its net asset value of pounds 870m.

Littlewoods said: "We have yet to receive a formal offer but should we receive one we will respond to it." However, the company acknowledged Mr Dale's approach to Kleinwort Benson and said that it would be making a response.

According to the venture capital groups involved, Mr Dale would be chairman of the group if the bid was successful.

John Coleman, former chief executive of Texas Homecare, has also joined the consortium and would become managing director of the retail division. This includes the Littlewoods stores, the home shopping business and the Index stores. His role would be to inject some razzmatazz into the Littlewoods outlets, which are seen as dowdy and old-fashioned.

Another director would be brought in to run the football pools division.

Fred Vinton, chairman of Electra, said: "It is the right time for the family to consider their options." He added that the decision "may not be purely financial", a reference to the complex emotional issues involved in such a large family- owned company.

Mr Vinton said that the indicative offer was not a break-up bid and that he believed the business could be managed in its present form.

The offer is not conditional on acquiring 100 per cent control. It is believed the consortium would be comfortable with 75 per cent of the shares and for family members who wished to retain a stake to do so.

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