PRIME Minister David Cameron has promised to intervene on the closure of an airport in Kent after its owner, Scottish businesswoman Ann Gloag, was criticised in parliament for putting 150 jobs at risk.
The Prime Minister told MPs that ministers would hold meetings with both Ms Gloag and the potential buyers of Manston airport, Riveroak.
Billionaire Mrs Gloag, 71, who owns Perth-based Stagecoach along with her brother the SNP backer Sir Brian Souter, bought Manston for £1 in November last year and is set to shut the airport, costing hundreds of jobs.
The issue was raised by Tory North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale who attacked Mrs Gloag for being reluctant to negotiate to save the airport.
He told the House: “On Budget day this year, Mrs Gloag announced that she was going into consultation with a view to closing an airport that is worth hundreds of jobs and is a major diversion field and a search and rescue base.
“Since then, my honourable friend the Member for South Thanet [Laura Sandys] and I have sought to find a buyer.
“Last night, the RiverOak company of Connecticut, which already has airport interests, put in an enhanced and realistic offer to keep Manston open, save the jobs and develop the business.” At present, the owners are reluctant to negotiate.”
He added: “I do not expect the Prime Minister to engage in commercial negotiations, but will he seek to ensure that the Civil Aviation Agency operating licence remains open, that Manston remains open, and that further discussions are held; and will he encourage those discussions to take place?”
Mr Cameron warned that the future of the airport, which he acknowledged plays an important role in the Kent economy, was in the hands of Mrs Gloag.
However, he added: “It is important that the Government are engaged, and I know that the Transport Secretary [Patrick McLoughlin] is engaged.
“He will be speaking to Mrs Gloag about this issue and also contacting RiverOak, the potential purchasers. In the end, it has to make a commercial decision, but the Government will do everything they can to help.”
The exchanges came after Stephen DeNardo, who heads up the investment company RiverOak, criticised Mrs Gloag for failing to hold proper discussions.
In an interview with the KM Group he said: “I have been in many negotiations in my career, so there isn’t much that surprises me.
“What does surprise me is the lack of negotiation and discussion when so many jobs and an important piece of the community’s economy are at stake - especially when our offer, from my understanding, provides a tidy profit to the seller for such a short-hold period.”
But Mrs Gloag has ruled out the offer as “not credible or viable” for the airport which is said to be losing £10,000 a day.
The bid was also described as coming too late and not meeting the deadline.
Mrs Gloag’s operating firm Manston Skyport has said they had been “willing to consider credible offers”.
They added: “We have engaged with a range of interested parties over the last couple of months which, unfortunately, have not come to fruition.”
Ian McCoulough, of the Unite union, said: “We believe Manston should continue as a viable airport. It is vital to the local economy in terms of employment and economic growth in Kent.”
Last week, it emerged that Mrs Gloag has signed up to give away half of her £500 million fortune to good causes.
She has already helped thousands of women and girls in projects in Africa.