A consortium led by private equity house Candover and former Hays Chemical Distribution md Dennis Matthewman has agreed to acquire the Films business of Belgian pharmaceutical and chemicals company the UCB Group for €320m in cash.

Completion is expected in September.

Cumbria-headquartered Surface Specialties UCB (formerly UCB Films) manufactures specialist oriented polypropylene (OPP) and cellulose (Cello) films, employing 1,600 staff at two sites in the UK, one in Belgium, one in Australia and one in the US. Its OPP division manufactures speciality packaging products targeted at high growth niche markets, while the Cello division is currently launching a range of biodegradable food packaging and transparent beverage labels. The business had a 2003 turnover of €362m.

The “Films” acquisition includes a 50% equity in Securency Pty, which manufactures and markets Guardian high security substrates for polymer banknotes and materials for government security documents worldwide. Developed to combat counterfeiting, the hi-tech polymer technology was jointly developed by UCB and the Reserve Bank of Australia, which plans to retain a 50% share in Securency.

Surface Specialties UCB’s Wigton, Cumbria HQ employs 838 staff, focussing strongly on OPP film manufacture and R&D, while the 241-strong Bridgwater plant produces mainly cellulose films.

The new company, which will continue trading under the same name for now, but is expected to be re-named, will be chaired by Dennis Matthewman, and headed by the existing management team.

Chairman of UCB’s Executive Committee Georges Jacobs says: “This sale is in line with UCB’s strategy highlighted recently by the acquisition of (UK biotech company) Celltech. The management and employees of ‘Films’ will benefit from being part of an organisation fully committed to the development of films activities.”

Dennis Matthewman adds: “I am particularly excited at the prospect of working with such exceptional management and employees and to be able to continue to develop this world-class business which has been successfully built up by UCB over many years.”