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New salvo in brewery battle

Shareholders in the UK’s largest independent brewing group are being urged to accept the revised offer from the pub-management consortium, Pubmaster.

Pubmaster said a letter to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries (W&DB) shareholders was a "routine reminder" of its offer which values the group at £483m. But a W&DB spokesperson has dismissed it as "desperate and last-ditch". The company must secure acceptance of its offer by 13 August but the takeover has alarmed supporters of W&DB who fear it could lead to the demise of traditional beer brands such as Banks’s and Marston’s. News of the letter comes after W&DB secured the support of its largest institutional shareholder, US-based fund manager Silchester International, in opposing the takeover.

Logic questioned

The regional brewer’s defence strategy includes returning £200m to investors by April 2003, the sale of pubs and a move to focus production at two of its four breweries. A spokesman for W&DB said: "It is a recognition of the fact that there are clearly some shareholders who want cash and this is a way of doing that." But the chief executive of Pubmaster, John Sands, strongly criticised the plans and said he believed the buy-back would work in their favour. "Where is the logic? Even a blind man can see that 491p for 22 per cent of your shares is not comparable to 513p in cash in full," he said.

Job fears

W&DB, which operates 1,770 pubs, has consistently rejected the Pubmaster offer, accusing it of trying to buy the country’s biggest regional brewer and pub owner "on the cheap". The prospect of a takeover has also led to calls by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), for help from the Trade and Industry Minister Patricia Hewitt to safeguard jobs in the brewing industry. A Camra spokesman said the Pubmaster bid, led by German bank WestLB, would see thousands of pubs "falling into the clutches" of foreign investors.

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