Pressure to drop Nats sale

9 Dec 99
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is under pressure from within Whitehall to rethink plans to sell a majority stake in Britain's air traffic control system.

10 December 1999

Whitehall sources said some ministers favour delaying the sale of the National Air Traffic Service (Nats) because of financial and technical problems. Others want the deal, which is fiercely opposed by unions and many Labour backbenchers, to be modified or even scrapped.

The pressure on Prescott increased when the government revealed the sale is expected to raise £350m, well below the £500m originally estimated, with administration costs likely to swallow another £35m.

The deal is being further complicated by delays and cost overruns at the new control centre being built at Swanwick, Hampshire, and the need to finance the service's estimated £300m debts.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions denied claims by shadow transport secretary John Redwood that the figures meant the sale would only raise £15m.

A spokesman said the debts would be transferred to the new private sector owners.

Party sources admitted many backbenchers remain bitterly opposed to the sale, despite a barnstorming speech from Prescott at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on December 1. Martin Salter, MP for Reading West, whose constituency includes many controllers, condemned the sale as 'unnecessary and divisive'.

The government confirmed that the Transport Bill does not rule out union-backed proposals for Nats to be transferred to a non-profit-making trust, but Prescott said the private finance deal remained his 'preferred option'


Did you enjoy this article?