INSURER Aviva has taken further steps to simplify its business by sealing a £178m sale of Spanish operations.

The company has offloaded its share of life and pensions joint ventures Cajamurcia Vida and Caja Granada Vida to Spain's state-backed lender Bankia.

The move does not mark a full-blown exit from the country, with Aviva, which runs general insurance and life insurance operations out of York continuing to hold a stake in life insurance firm Pelayo Vida.

Group chief executive Mark Wilson said the deal secured a "strong return" for shareholders.

He said: "It means that, over the past five years, we have generated proceeds of £1.3bn from selling almost all of our Spanish operations.

"The transaction further simplifies Aviva, strengthens our already healthy capital position and is another example of our focus on attractive, growing markets where we have high-quality franchises."

Mr Wilson has been pushing through a radical shake-up of the group, exiting fringe businesses to focus on its core operations.

The move comes after the firm announced in November that it had swooped for Irish rival Friends First in a £116m deal that would make it one of Ireland's largest insurers.

Aviva, which has 33 million customers across 16 markets, said the Irish tie-up dovetailed with its strategy to make "bolt-on" acquisitions in areas where it has a significant operation or a competitive advantage.