A Staffordshire-based nursery business founded by three couples from Walsall has been sold for #70 million.

Busy Bees Childcare – which employees 1,500 staff including 300 at its main offices in Lichfield, Burntwood and Fradley – said the acquisition by Australian-based ABC Learning Centres was a chance to grow the business.

The company was founded in 1983 by directors Lynn Woodward, John Woodward, Margaret Randles and David Thackray after they were unable to source high quality childcare for their own children. All four, along with fellow director Simon Irons, will remain with the business.

Mr Woodward said: "The deal is exactly what we have been looking for – it gives us the opportunity to develop. The founders have been involved for the past 23 years and this is not about taking the money and clearing off.

"We will be staying part of the company and will develop it. There will be no job losses and we expect to employ more people over the coming year."

Busy Bees, which is the fourth-largest nursery chain in the UK, also manages childcare vouchers schemes – a non-taxable and National Insurance exempt method of paying for childcare run by employers.

Mr Woodward said this was an area of significant growth for the firm and that ABC Learning Centres hoped to replicate the model in Australia and the US.

He said: "The voucher business, which is based in Lichfield has grown from 50 to 200 staff in the last 18 months.

"Around 56 per cent of companies that have signed up to the voucher scheme are with Busy Bees and our clients include Asda, Littlewoods, Boots, BAE Systems and local authorities."

"The deal with ABC means that we can develop this globally and we expect to create around 150 more new jobs within the next couple of years."

In the nursery business the company said it was planning the development of a new site across the UK.

The company has just opened new nurseries in Canterbury and Norwich and also has plans for a nursery at the Queen Elizabeth super hospital.

Mr Woodward said Busy Bees was in talks with a number of other nurseries regarding potential takeovers and expected to make a number of announcements within the next 12 months.

The company, which was previously backed by private equity group, Gresham operates 46 nursery facilities across the UK – including sites in Birmingham and Solihull.

ABC Learning Centres, which is the largest publicly listed childcare operator in the world, based on the number of centres, operates childcare centres in Australia, New Zealand and America.

It became listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2001 and enhanced its portfolio by acquiring the US-based Learning Care Group in 2005, followed swiftly by the acquisition of Dallas-based Children’s Courtyard in August 2006.

Eddy Groves, ABC Learning Centre’s global chief executive, said: "Busy Bees is a progressive private operator with the care, happiness and safety of children at the heart of everything it does. We are keen to work closely with Busy Bees to further enhance the progress that has been achieved so far and continue to deliver high quality child care in Birmingham and Solihull."

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