TROUBLED retailer Mothercare is holding talks over the possible sale of its struggling Early Learning Centre toy division.

The retailer acquired the Early Learning Centre for £85 million in June 2007 but the partnership has struggled amid trading difficulties within the wider group.

The Sunday Times reported discussions were being held with several parties on a cut-price sale of the toy chain, with investment bank Lazard advising Mothercare.

Mothercare saw shares slump 31 per cent in one day earlier this month after it revealed profits would be short of City expectations, squeezed by rivals' promotions and lower footfall over the Christmas period.

UK sales fell 9.9 per cent in the 12 weeks to January 4.

It has 191 stores under the Mothercare brand and the retailer has an outlet in CrownGate shopping centre's Friary Walk, while the Early Learning Centre can be found in CrownGate's Chapel Walk.

The Early Learning Centre was founded in 1974 as a mail order business offering toys and books with educational content and its first retail store opened in Reading the same year.

It was previously owned by a consortium of bookshop owner Tim Waterstone, US private equity firm Rhone Capital and Beano publisher DC Thomson, which originally bought it in 2004 for £62 million from venture capitalist 3i.