Stationery Office prepares to float

THE STATIONERY Office, formerly known as Her Majesty's Stationery Office, is planning a flotation on the stock market after a radical restructuring saw the group return to the black last year.

Electra Fleming, the venture capitalists, and the group's management team, lead by Rupert Pennant-Rea, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, are likely to be in line for a large windfall when it comes to the market.

The move will add to the controversy surrounding the sale of The Stationery Office. Its privatisation in 1996 was heavily criticised by the National Audit Office which claimed its sale had cost taxpayers pounds 75m.

The Stationery Office will today announce it made operating profits of pounds 13.1m last year, compared to combined losses of pounds 50.1m in 1995 and the first nine months of 1996. When Electra Fleming took over the business in August 1996 it was on the brink of collapse and had suspended payments to its suppliers after a re-organisation by the Conservative government almost ended in disaster.

The new owners have spent more than pounds 60m shaking up the business, cutting 1,000 workers and slimming down its 14 business units to only two main divisions.

The Stationery Office publishes the Highway Code and Hansard. It recently purchased Whitaker's Almanack and is on the lookout for further acquisitions to strengthen its portfolio. The group is also planning an overhaul of the old HMSO retail outlets, opening new shops offering on-line access to documents.

The Stationery Office will not be able float this year as it has to establish a two-year profit record in order to come to the market. However it is likely to seek a listing in 1999.

The government had hoped to sell the business for pounds 100m but in the end it fetched just pounds 54m. Electra Fleming, which owns 56 per cent of the group, and the directors, who own 20 per cent, could be sitting on a goldmine if profits continue to improve.