Scottish farms up for sale as Co-op to offload agricultural assets

Scottish farms up for sale as Co-op to offload agricultural assets
STV
26.2.14 

 
The Co-op is to sell its farming assets and will consider the future of its pharmacy business as part of plans to revive the troubled mutual.

The group, which is reportedly set to announce losses of £2bn in results for 2013 due next month, has started the process of selling its agriculture business, which features three packing sites and 14 farms — including sites in Blairgowrie, Longforgan, Aberdeenshire, Carnoustie and the Borders.

It also confirmed that it is exploring options on its pharmacy business, including the sale of all or part of the operation.

The division is one of the UK’s three largest pharmacy chains, with 750 branches and 6500 staff.

The Co-operative Group’s farms business dates back to 1896 and covers around 50,000 acres of land in Scotland and England. The sites grow a variety of cereals, including wheat for bread flour, and a number of fruit and vegetables, including potatoes, cider apples and peas.

However, the enterprise is not considered a core business to the Co-op as it supplies only a small proportion of the food sold in its stores.

The pharmacy business, which was established in 1945, has felt the brunt of attempts by the Government to cut back on the cost of prescriptions.

Other businesses in the Co-op group include funeralcare, legal services, travel and general insurance.

Its banking arm, which is now under the control of bondholders as part of a refinancing to fill a £1.5bn hole in its balance sheet, is expected to drive the group to an overall loss of more than £2bn, according to the BBC.

The group is facing a raft of inquiries into what went wrong at the bank, with regulators recently launching formal investigations that could see former senior managers fined or banned from working in the industry.

The company’s results are due on March 26 but chief executive Euan Sutherland is unlikely to reveal full details of his turnaround plan until nearer the group’s annual meeting in May.

He recently asked people to have their say on the future of the Co-op through an online nationwide poll.

The survey asks a broad range of questions, from how to improve its goods and services to thorny issues such as whether the Co-op should make political donations.

The Co-op said on Wednesday: "As part of the wider strategic review of all of its businesses, The Co-operative Group has decided that its farms are non-core and has started a process that is expected to lead to a sale of the business.

"In addition, it is exploring options for the future of the pharmacy business; this could include the sale in whole or part of the business."