Instant Cash Loans, the owner of The Money Shop loans and pawnbroking chain, has become the latest subprime lender brought to the brink of collapse with the weight of complaints from claims management companies. ICL has informed its 427 staff that it plans to cease trading and has begun the rollout of a mass redundancy process. Around 100 UK stores will shut or be sold.
Leeds-based Dransfield Novelty Company has acquired the entire issued share capital of Gameco Holdings, the owner of Reflex Gaming. The deal brings together the UK’s largest independent fruit machine operator and the UK’s largest independent fruit machine manufacturer. Established 70 years ago, Dransfields has annual turnover exceeding £23m, employs 244 people, and services more than 14,000 machines at over 5,000 sites nationwide. It claims to be the original developer of the ‘nudge’ feature.
McKesson UK, the parent company of Lloydspharmacy, has acquired prescription management app Echo in its bid to accelerate its digital healthcare strategy. Echo allows patients to manage their medicines and order repeat prescriptions to their door for free. Launched in 2016, Echo is staffed by 85 people and is one of three NHS-approved repeat prescription apps in the NHS app library.
Merlin Entertainments, the operator of theme parks such as Legoland, has agreed to a £5.9bn takeover. The consortium taking over the company consists of Kirkbi Invest, Blackstone and CPPIB, the Canadian pension fund. Kirkbi is the private investment firm of the family of Kirk Kristiansen, the inheritor of the Lego fortune. The deal has valued Merlin’s shares at £4.77bn, and includes around £1.1bn in debt, making its total enterprise value c. £5.9bn. Merlin owns a vast portfolio of attractions, including Alton Towers, the London Eye and Madame Tussauds.
Housebuilder Kier has announced plans to cut 1,200 jobs and sell several business units as low confidence in the contractor’s financial position forces it to begin paying suppliers in advance. The HS2 contractor has announced that it will focus on regional building, infrastructure, utilities and highways, and seeks to dispose of Kier Living, Property, Facilities Management and Environment Services, which it deems non-core. Kier Living is a housebuilder with a focus on the affordable housing market.
Monsoon Accessorize is calling on landlords to reduce rents at more than half of its stores in return for a share of £10m future profits. The company has said it will launch two separate company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) through which it will seek to lower rents at 135 out of the group’s 258 leased stores. Although it will not outright shut any stores at present, 36 stores could be put at risk of closure under the company’s proposals. The CVA process has become popular with retailers in recent years, with the most high profile recent example being Arcadia Group. US landlords have since filed a legal challenge against Arcadia’s decision to push its US subsidiary into administration, claiming that the company is trying to deprive them “of their bargained-for contractual rights by manipulating and exploiting a private, little-used out-of-court process”. Sports Direct and two property groups also launched a challenge to the Debenhams CVA in May, objecting to the lack of legal procedure. The biggest loser of the Monsoon Accessorize CVA could be Intu, the shopping mall owner, where the business has 19 stores.
UK retailer Bathstore has gone into administration, putting around 530 jobs at risk. Owned by American billionaire Warren Stephens, Bathstore has 135 stores and a head office in Welwyn Garden City. Stores will remain open while the administrator BDO searches for a buyer.
Automation specialist Blue Prism has bought Thoughtonomy, a provider of on-demand virtual workforce and AI solutions. Thoughtonomy’s products include ready-to-use chatbots and web-forms with integrated AI technologies such as computer vision, natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning.
Global IT services consultancy CGI added 670 IT experts to its books with the acquisition of SCISYS. Based in Dublin, SCISYS is a pan-European computer software and services provider specialising in the space and defence sectors, as well as in media and broadcast news. The firm has offices in Germany and the UK, and annual revenue of approximately £58.4m. CGI has paid £78.9m for the firm.
Pokemon Go creator Niantic has bought London gaming studio Sensible Object, establish its first outpost in the UK. The move signals Niantic’s commitment to designing new real-world AR (augmented reality) experiences for players.