Forbes' statement

Prestwick Airport bid ‘did not secure value’

Prestwick Airport
Prestwick Airport remains in state ownership

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has revealed that bids for state-owned Prestwick Airport were rejected as they would not secure value for the taxpayer.

Ministers have been looking to sell the Ayrshire facility which was acquired for a nominal £1 in 2013 to save it from closure.

But it was taken off the market before Christmas after the Government ended talks with a potential undisclosed buyer.

Speaking in Holyrood, Ms Forbes said there had been bids from credible investors. “However, following careful consideration of a recommendation by the Prestwick board, we decided not to proceed with the sale, at this time,” she said.

“It is still our intention to return Prestwick airport to the private sector at the appropriate time and opportunity. Any decision must be informed by what is right for the long-term success of the business and the contribution that it makes to the local economy.”

She declared that much of the recent speculation about the attempted sale had been “inaccurate” – adding that “we must continue to respect commercial confidentiality”.

Ms Forbes added: “The commercial bids that were received were assessed against the commercial case and the wider economic case for the region.

“It was on the basis of independent advice, and following a recommendation from the Prestwick board, that we decided that the bid does not, at this stage, represent the value to the taxpayer that we are looking for.”

Labour’s Colin Smyth asked for more details on the failed bidding process and said Ms Forbes’ “vague answer is not good enough”.

He added: “There is no preferred bidder for Prestwick at the moment. The cabinet secretary cannot hide behind on-going confidentiality when the process is not on-going: the sale has collapsed.

“Significant investment is required in order to give Prestwick a sustainable future. That will not come from a new owner any time soon.

“Can the cabinet secretary tell us exactly where the necessary investment for Prestwick will come from? Is it the case that, as it seems, and a decade after buying Prestwick, the Scottish Government still has no plan for the future of the airport.”

One recent report claimed that the rejected bidder was Train Alliance UK which wanted to turn it into a freight hub.

But Ms Forbes insisted that “we should not and cannot comment on speculation about the identity of bidders.”

She added: “I can be clear, as I have already said, that the commercial bids that were received were, on the basis of independent advice, considered not to be adequate right now to secure value for the taxpayer.

“Any return to the private sector needs to be on the right terms. We need to ensure that we are confident that a sale would not only represent value for the taxpayer but would put the business on a firm footing.

“Long-term commercial sustainability is important – the business needs to develop and to support jobs and the economy. In the most recent sale process, we were not satisfied—on the basis of independent advice—that those objectives would be met.”

Ongoing taxpayer support for Prestwick was criticised yesterday by executives of Scotland’s other airports who demanded an “end game” to subsidies which are distorting the market.

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