Bosses of the NEC Group say its sale will be completed by the end of the year as they unveiled a small rise in turnover.

NEC executives say the sale process announced by owner Birmingham City Council, which includes the National Exhibition Centre, the International Convention Centre and the National Indoor Arena, was on schedule, with an agreement likely by the end of the calendar year.

Meanwhile, the group has seen a 1.7 per cent rise in revenues, despite suffering from a "shortfall in comedians".

Council leader Sir Albert Bore revealed in March that interest in the group had been high with a host of inquiries from potential investors and would-be bidders.

Chief operating officer John Hornby told the Post: "We are bound by confidentiality in terms of the specific parties who have had an interest.

"The process continues and the city council would envisage that we would be in a position to complete by the end of 2014.

"If we end up under private ownership, it will give us more access to capital and enable us to take different risks. It will enable us to move at a different pace."

 

Mr Hornby said any sale would make the group, which supports almost 29,000 jobs, more flexible and less dependent on the exhibitions arm.

"The exhibitions business has performed well but like any other group we are looking to diversify and that means expanding into different areas. If the group ends up in private ownership, we will be able to up the pace to diversify.

"The city council is very much motivated here by how to best allow the group and the management team to realise its growth potential. It is now entering into a new stage of development where it requires new capital and needs to take different risks.

"The city council acknowledges that they are not in the best position as shareholders to take that forward."

The prospects of a sale emerged as the group announced revenues were up by 1.7 per cent to £122.8 million despite the redevelopment of the NIA and the lack of any party political conference during the year to March 31, 2014.

The group announced an operating profit of £22.3 million and said it had welcomed a total of 3.8 million visitors to its venues across 762 events.

The exhibition business delivered an operating profit of £34.3 million, up £3 million on the previous year while profits for the Arenas and Ticket Factory business were £3.9 million, down by £1.7 million on the previous year.

Mr Hornby said the Arenas and ticket arm had been restricted by the ongoing development of the NIA while there had been a 'significant fall' in the number of comedy events and the number of music concerts was 'marginally' down.

"The dip in the comedy programme was a temporary lull and we will enjoy a much stronger position in the current financial year with multiple nights of Lee Evans, Miranda Hart, John Bishop and Mrs Brown confirmed and on sale."

 

Forthcoming concerts include Bryan Adams, Andrea Bocelli, the Saturdays, Lady Gaga, The Who and Chris Rea.

The Amadeus catering arm enjoyed a number of new contract wins during the year, including the Library of Birmingham, Dudley Zoo, Stratford Riverside, Cadbury World and Birmingham’s Symphony Hall and Town Hall.

Mr Hornby said the group faced an ‘exciting’ future, with more than £130 million being invested in casino and leisure development Resorts World Birmingham due to open next spring and completion of the NIA redevelopment.

Paul Thandi, chief executive of the NEC Group, said: "Our long-term growth and diversification strategy allied to the gradual recovery of the economy are having a continued positive effect on the group.

"The city council announced its decision to seek offers for the NEC Group in early March. We are well positioned to realise our true strategic potential under private ownership, while improving our contribution to the local and national economies."

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