Ian Payne, chairman of Stonegate Pub Company, has said that the group is in like-for-like growth and is regularly outperforming JD Wetherspoon (JDW). In an interview with The Times, Payne said the group, which is formed of 333 we-led pubs acquired from Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) and the former Town & City estate, had two big things in his favour — a strong management team led by the chief executive Toby Smith and a sound financial base from which to fund some “aggressive capital investment plans” for its pubs. He told the newspaper that the former M&B pubs were quickly returned to growth after three years of decline, while the group’s Slug & Lettuce brand has been in double-digit growth for two years. “It’s the best performing brand on the high street by a mile,” he said The group expects to achieve underlying earnings this year of £86m from sales of about £450m. Payne said that private equity backer TDR Capital was keen to fund further acquisitions, but refused to comment on suggestions that Stonegate is among the bidders for the rival Barracuda Pub Group. He said that, unusually for a private equity firm, TDR has no target exit date. Payne said: “TDR’s view is that if we turn this into the country’s best pub company the exit will look after itself.”