Optare shareholders support rescue deal

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A leading bus manufacturer secured its long-term future yesterday after shareholders backed a rescue deal with India’s Ashok Leyland.

Optare, which has 500 staff and has just opened a state-of-the-art bus assembly plant at Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire, warned recently it was unlikely to continue trading without the tie-up.

The Indian bus maker owned by the Hinduja Group holds a 26 per cent stake in Optare and will treble it to 75 per cent under a share placing that will provide Optare with access to a £12m credit line.

The proposal received overwhelming support in a vote involving 70 per cent of shareholders.

The deal had looked in danger over Christmas after rival Alexander Dennis, which is backed by Stagecoach founder Sir Brian Souter, requested information on a potential takeover.

However, it walked away after Ashok Leyland said it had no intention of selling its shares in Optare to “anyone at any price”.

Optare chief executive Jim Sumner said: “This is a real vote of confidence in both Optare and Ashok.

“Even though the plan has involved diluting current shareholders, it is recognised that this deal is in the best interests of the business long term and secures its future within one of the world’s top five bus makers.”

The bus building industry has been impacted by a lack of trade credit insurance, which along with higher levels of export business, has placed “considerable pressure” on Optare’s working capital requirements.

It told shareholders before Christmas: “To support the company going forward the business requires banking facilities and headroom that is substantially higher than the present arrangements.”

Optare, which was established out of the former Leyland Bus business Charles H Roe in 1985, has an order book worth £59m after it recently unveiled a contract to supply 190 of its Solo SR midibuses to Cape Town in South Africa.

Components will be supplied by Optare and assembled by South African firm Busmark 2000 at a new plant in Cape Town.

The current order book, which compares to £34m in January, stands to get a further boost following the Government’s recent announcement of a further round of “green” bus funding from April.

Optare’s new 140,000 sq ft site brings together operations from Rotherham, Crossgates and Blackburn, under one roof.