WESTGATE in St Neots is set to become part of one of the largest department store groups in the UK.

WESTGATE in St Neots is set to become part of one of the largest department store groups in the UK.

Anglia Co-operative Society announced today (Wednesday) it has reached a conditional agreement with JE Beale Plc to acquire the department store.

The deal will secure 53 jobs at the St Neots store, said Anglia Co-operative chief executive John Chillcott.

Likely to be completed by the end of May, the deal covers 19 of the Society's 23 Westgate department stores, including the store at St Neots.

It will make Westgate part of one of the largest department store groups in the UK.

Mr Chillcott said: "Beales are a long-established department store operator and combining the respective store portfolios into one enlarged group makes strong commercial sense for both parties and improves job security and opportunities for the 900 staff employed in the 19 Westgate stores covered by the deal - including the 53 people employed at St Neots."

Anglia Co-operative members will still be able to earn points and redeem dividend at Westgate stores in future and Anglia will continue to operate the furniture, travel, optical and hairdressing departments within the stores.

Members' share accounts remain invested in Anglia Co-operative and will be serviced via the members' offices as usual and by post, telephone and online.

Anglia Co-operative will have a significant investment interest in the enlarged Beales department store group and as a result of this deal the society will be better able to invest in the growth and development of its co-operative food, funerals, travel, optical and AHF furniture businesses.

Mr Chillcott added: "In difficult economic times, the society is pleased to have secured the future of the Westgate department stores and anticipates minimal disruption and change for customers both during and after the transaction."