Unite COO heads for the door

THE CHIEF operating officer of Unite Group, Britain’s largest listed student landlord, will leave the company as part of a management shake-up designed to save £2.5m a year.

John Tonkiss (pictured), who has been with the firm for 10 years, will leave on 31 December as a series of changes are introduced. The moves, which relate mainly to cuts in senior management roles and central support functions, are expected to cost Unite £1.5m this year, it said.

It is understood there has not been a disagreement with Tonkiss but the board wants to create a clearer structure with separate building and property management arms.

Unite has 99 per cent of its available student rooms reserved for the 2011-12 academic year. In spring it warned, however, that cuts to university places will mean tenant growth is likely to remain flat over the next five years, forcing the firm to raise rents to drive growth.

Other changes announced yesterday include the appointments of Unite development director Richard Simpson to managing director of the property division, and deputy chief financial officer Richard Smith to managing director of the operations division.

Unite shares closed down 1.8 per cent at 166.2p yesterday.