Country and equestrian chain Countrywide Farmers Plc has gone into administration with more than 700 staff facing an uncertain future.

Mole Valley Farmers Ltd had been in negotiations to buy out Countrywide’s retail arm.

However an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into the sale brought the deal to a halt.

Countrywide Farmers, which employs around 735 people, has its headquarters in Evesham, Worcestershire, and operates 48 shops across England and Wales.

No initial redundancies have been made as a result of the administration.

Countrywide has been restructuring over the past year, which included the sale of its LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) division. That sale was successfully completed on 1 March, with more than 60 employees transferred to DCC Flogas.

Mole Valley Farmers had agreed to buy the retail section of the business in October 2017, subject to CMA clearance. But on 6 March, the CMA announced it was referring the process to an in-depth phase two investigation.

David Pike, partner at KPMG and joint administrator, said the CMA’s announcement means the sale “cannot proceed”.

“Unfortunately, given the significant trading difficulties and cash flow pressures, this has led the directors to consider their options and take the difficult decision to place the company into administration,” said Mr Pike.

“It is our intention to seek a purchaser for the business in whole or part and we have appointed Hilco Capital to assist in running the stores while we explore and develop available options.

“We encourage anyone who has an interest to contact us immediately.”

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A statement from Countrywide’s directors said its board has taken “extensive and appropriate professional advice” throughout the 12-month review.

It added the sale to Mole Valley Farmers was taking longer than expected, and following the news from the CMA — which was likely to mean an additional six-month delay — concluded Countrywide would be “unable to meet its financial obligations for this extended period of time”.

“Following their appointment, the administrators will determine the appropriate course of action and future for the business,” adds the statement.

“It is with significant regret that the Countrywide retail business, which trades from 48 stores and employs over 700 staff, will now face a very uncertain future.”

A spokesman for Mole Valley Farmers Ltd told H&H that the announcement is “a sad outcome for all concerned”.

“Mole Valley Farmers had been working with Countrywide to identify a solution that would satisfy the CMA requirements and secure the future of over 600 staff and retail stores,” said the spokesman.

“However the protracted review and recent ruling has prevented us from acquiring the business as we had hoped.”

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