There’s growing speculation about who will end up the owner of United Utilities outsourcing arm Vertex with EDS the latest name in the ring. Vertex provides back office functions such as call centre, sales, billing, human resources services to a range of companies such as Marks & Spencer.

In the last financial year, Vertex made operating profits of £20.8 mililon. The future of the profitable Liverpool-based division has been uncertain since new chief executive Philip Green took the helm at Warrington-based United Utilities earlier this year. After several approaches for Vertex, United appointed investment bank Merrill Lynch to assess the options but officially insists no decision has been made whether to dispose of the business.

That said, sources within the outsourcing industry insist that the arm is up for sale and that there are clear contenders to be the new owner. The London office of 3i is widely tipped to be leading the race for Vertex, which could fetch around £400m.

But also in contention is said to be Liberata, the UK's second biggest outsourcing company. US outsourcing company EDS and private equity firm Knox Lawrence are also thought to be still in the running.
Equity firms Bridgepoint and Montagu are said to have pulled out of the contest to land the north west company, which employs 9,000 people, as apparently has Indian firm Tata on the basis that the price is too high.