A portfolio of about 400 pubs is being scrutinised by potential buyers after the boss of Ei Group confirmed plans to sell off commercial properties in the group’s portfolio worth £350 million.

Ei’s chief executive Simon Townsend, pictured above, who confirmed the company’s intention to auction off the pubs, said the sale would “allow us to concentrate on our core estate”.

The company said it was exploring a potential sale of all or part of the portfolio and recently appointed Rothschild & Co to assist with the process.

Now, CAMRA is urging the pubco not to sell the pubs to property developers but as going concerns.

CAMRA’s National Director, Ben Wilkinson, said: “It’ll be important to consider the details of what is currently only a rumoured sale of some of Ei Group’s pubs. But if a number of pubs are to be put on the market, it’s essential that other operators are given the opportunity to acquire these as going concerns.

“Too many times in the past we’ve seen owners dispose of pubs directly to developers, robbing communities of their locals and licensees of their livelihoods. If Ei chooses to dispose of some its estate, we call on it to do the morally decent thing and sell these sites as licensed premises.”

Ei Group, one of the UK’s largest pubcos with more than 4,500 pubs, reported a stable profit of £122 million for the year ended 30 September 2018, and issued its third share buyback in three years in its preliminary financial results, while also hinting at a further return to shareholders.

Sales rose seven per cent to £695 million, helped by unusually high temperatures over the summer and a boost in trading during the FIFA World Cup.

“We continue to take appropriate steps to ensure that the Group’s capital structure enables and supports our objective to deliver attractive and sustainable returns for shareholders, as demonstrated by (the) announcement to initiate a further share buyback programme of up to £20 million,” Townsend said.

In August two Ei Group pubs were saved from closure after being bought by the villagers who drink in them.

The White Horse, between Leeds and York; and The Duke of Wellington, close to Lincoln; have both been bought by local community groups.

Both venues faced uncertain futures, however the sale of the two pubs within their local communities has ensured that both remain as public houses for the foreseeable future.

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