Co-op goes off-panel for CC M&A advice

The Co-operative Group has ventured outside its recently revised panel and appointed Clifford Chance to advise on its £9.5bn merger with fellow co-operative Rochdale-based grocer United Co-operatives.

Co-op head of legal Phillip Hardman said the firm was selected based on its longstanding relationship with the Co-op and its ability to act for both parties involved in the exercise.

“The panel’s not an exclusive panel,” explained Hardman, who named Addleshaw Goddard, Eversheds, Hammonds, Herbert Smith and Watson Burton as its chosen firms in November last year. “Clifford Chance has worked on a number of competition issues for the Co-operative Group for many years and we felt they were most suitable to advise on the deal.”

Clifford Chance was able to act for United Co-operatives as there were no conflicts of interest in the businesses due to the cooperative nature of the entities. This means that its owners consist of consumer and corporate groups rather than shareholders.

“Once there was broad backing from the board in February we began working on the transaction,” said senior associate Samantha Spence.

Competition partner Alex Nourry, who allocated different aspects of Co-op’s businesses to different associates to lead, led the team.

“Although the amalgamation went entirely to the competition team, it was divided into four diverse areas,” said Spence, who oversaw the work on Co-op’s grocery retail business.

Senior associate Richard Blewett managed the area of funeral homes, associate Emma Hopkinson oversaw travel branches and associate Chris Worrall worked on the pharmacies division. Associate Al Mangan and two trainees also supported the team.

The merger, which was given the okay by the Office of Fair Trading at the end of July, will see the emergence of the world’s largest mutual retailer, with its combined revenue estimated at £11bn. It is hoped that the merger will increase Co-op’s chances of survival in the overcrowded retail market.

The completion of the merger will also see Co-op chief executive Martin Beaumont stepping down, with United Co-operatives CEO Peter Marks taking over the reins. Marks said his first move will see Co-op roll out “one brand” across its businesses.