Robinson volunteers LWT stake in carve-up

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The Independent Online
GERRY ROBINSON, chief executive of Granada Group, is prepared to deliver London Weekend Television, in which Granada has amassed a 20 per cent stake, into the hands of the owner of the rival London TV franchise, Carlton Communications, as part of a carve-up of the ITV network.

The Independent on Sunday has learned that Michael Green, the ambitious chairman of Carlton, has approached Granada over the pounds 90m stake, which Granada picked up in two raids on LWT shareholders over the last two weeks.

Mr Robinson, an impish Irishman who made his name in contract catering, has told Carlton that if the rules on the ownership of ITV franchises were changed in a way that would allow Carlton to bid for LWT, Granada would not stand in its way and would sell the stake to Carlton.

'Gerry has realised that Carlton is prepared to pay much more for LWT than Granada could ever think it's worth,' said a close associate of the Granada boss. In such a case Granada would be interested in buying either the 20 per cent stake Carlton holds in Central TV or the 14 per cent LWT has of Yorkshire-Tyne Tees, both of which border on Granada's area.

Peter Brooke, the Heritage Secretary, is considering a plea by some of the ITV companies to do away with the clause in the Broadcasting Act which prevents any two of the nine largest ITV companies from merging with each other. However, many in the industry believe that if he does change the rules, there will still be restrictions on some mergers, including that of the weekday and weekend London franchises, on competition grounds.

If the rules are changed to allow mergers of the large franchises, but Carlton is still prevented from buying LWT, then Granada is planning to make a bid for LWT itself. But Mr Robinson is understood not to want to get into a bidding war with Carlton and will deliver LWT into Carlton's hands if the two London franchises are allowed to come together.

Granada has also declined the offer of a seat on LWT's board, made by the group's chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, when he met Mr Robinson earlier this week. Granada has done this because it would restrict its ability to use the LWT stake as a bargaining tool. It could also prevent Granada from raising its stake any further, as the Independent Television Commission, which regulates ITV, could deem the holding to be a 'controlling interest'. As it stands, Granada has no plans to raise its stake, which stands at 20.4 per cent, despite being approached by a leading stockbroker with an offer of a further 10 per cent.

(Photographs omitted)