Care home provider ILS snapped up for £22.5m

Scott Christie is set to step down as chairman once deal is complete. Picture: Contributed
Scott Christie is set to step down as chairman once deal is complete. Picture: Contributed
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SCOTLAND’s biggest home care provider, Alva-based ILS, was snapped up yesterday for £22.5 million by housing repairs group Mears, triggering cash windfalls for senior management.

The acquisition is on a “debt-free” basis, and means that once debt and loan stock are stripped out ILS executive chairman Scott Christie and other senior management are set to scoop about £2.55m from their 30 per cent stake in the company.

Christie himself owns more than 20 per cent of ILS after leading a buy-in in 2005, indicating a personal windfall of about £1.7m. The other leading beneficiaries are finance director Craig Hendry, and operations director Robin Sidebottom.

The deal followed a request by Christie to David McCorquodale, corporate finance director at KPMG, to seek out potential bigger strategic buyers for the business.

ILS provides care for about 3,400 people in Scotland, has contracts with 20 local authorities and employs about 1,600 staff.

The business, which specialises in helping patients suffering from conditions such as learning disabilities, autism, dementia and mental health issues, made an operating profit of £2.6m last year.

This more complex area of home care is one Mears is not currently involved in, with one analyst calling the strategic rationale for the deal “compelling”.

Christie said of the sale to Gloucester-based Mears: “We have trebled the size of ILS over the last six or seven years, and we felt now was the time to bring in a major strategic partner.”

He will step down on completion of the deal, but other senior management are expected to stay on. Christie said he did not expect any job losses from the takeover, and that a key rationale of the deal was for Mears to roll out ILS services across the UK.

They range from short visits to elderly people to round-the-clock care. Over half of ILS’s business is caring for people aged over 70, while 40 per cent is in care “at the acute end of the spectrum”.

Mears is funding the deal mainly through a £19.7m placing of new shares priced at 310p, with the rest coming from existing bank debt facilities.

The group said the acquisition was expected to be earnings per share neutral this year, and earnings-enhancing in the first full financial year post an estimated £400,000 of cost synergies.

Mears said the home care market in Scotland was more attractive market than England “owing to a much lower level of outsourcing of these services from local authorities… and a policy of free personal and nursing care for all individuals over 65, regardless of means”.

ILS’s 10 branches cover areas such as Stirling/Falkirk, Prestwick, Edinburgh, Dumfries & Galloway, the Borders, Aberdeen, Perth and Kinross. Christie said it had grown “through a mixture of organic growth and acquisitions”.

Mears, which also has a growing home support business, has a stock market capitalisation of £290m.

Chief executive David Miles said: “The acquisition provides Mears with an excellent geographic fit with [our] existing care business in Scotland with limited branch overlap and will significantly increase our presence in Scotland.”