ABOUT 800 jobs have been protected at 52 Optical Express stores in Scotland after the optician's owner agreed to pay off its debt to Royal Bank of Scotland.

Chairman David Moulsdale, who founded the group in 1991, hopes to complete a deal with the bank today that will effectively safeguard the Cumbernauld-based firm's future, after reporting positive talks.

A spokesman said Mr Moulsdale, whose board at Optical Express includes former First Minister Jack McConnell, has made a multi-million-pound investment in the business that protects jobs and positions it for growth unencumbered by any debt.

The investment was made as a report claimed the chain, which employs 1800 staff across 93 stores and 54 consultation centres, was 
on the brink of administration before Mr Moulsdale's move. It was reported RBS was preparing to 
call in its debt, said to be worth more than £30m, and sell the company on to new investors after Optical Express had approached it for further funds to pay staff.

A spokesman for Mr Moulsdale said the businessman would not comment on media speculation.

He said: "We have been in 
positive discussions for some time with RBS and have reached an amicable agreement on a deal that will secure the long-term future and expansion of the Optical Express Group. David has agreed to acquire the entire debt owed to RBS by Optical Express and will inject significant working
capital into the group, positioning it in a highly secure position for continued growth."

Optical Express expanded rapidly through a series of acquisitions after it was set up by Mr Moulsdale, diversifying from optometry into laser eye surgery and private dentistry.

However, more recently it has been affected by the downturn in consumer spending. Trade at 
high-street stores has been 
affected by competition from 
shopping centres.

Those conditions saw it put a subsidiary formerly known as Optical Express (Southern) into administration in October as part of a restructuring that saw it close 40 stores – three in Scotland.

At the time Mr Moulsdale said the changes left the company "in a position of strength to go forward and grow our business in these tough economic times".

The process left Optical Express with a portfolio of 130 stores, 55 north of the Border. The portfolio now stands at 52 in Scotland.

A source close to the business questioned why RBS had been prepared to take a "massive haircut" on the Optical Express debt, claiming it has accepted just 20p in the pound from Mr Moulsdale.

The source said: "I fail to understand, with RBS in the public eye, [why it] would allow the debt to be written off at such a level".

Neither Mr Moulsdale nor RBS would comment on how much was paid to buy out the debt.