Rejected Prestwick Airport offer ‘would not secure value for taxpayer’ – Kate Forbes

A bid to buy Prestwick Airport was rejected because it was "not adequate to secure value for the taxpayer" and may not have put the site on a “firm footing”, finance secretary Kate Forbes told MSPs.

The comments came in response to a question from Labour transport spokesperson and South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth in the wake of The Scotsman’s revelation that plans to develop the South Ayrshire airport as a freight hubby by Train Alliance UK – the bidder chosen by ministers to buy it – had been rejected.

Ms Forbes told him the sale had attracted bids from “credible investors”, but the offer received “did not at this point in time represent the value for the taxpayer we are looking for”.

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She said: “The commercial bids were considered, on the basis of independent advice, not to be adequate right now to secure value for the taxpayer.

Prestwick Airport was bought by the Scottish Government for a nominal £1 in 2013 to avert its closure. Picture: John Devlin

"We need to make sure that we’re confident that any sale would not only represent that value for the taxpayer, but also puts the business on a firm footing.

"The long-term commercial sustainability is important.

"The business needs to develop and support jobs and the economy.

"We were not satisfied – and based on independent advice – that those objectives had been met.”

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Mr Smyth said later: “It’s nearly ten years since Prestwick was bought by the Scottish Government, claiming their aim was to return it to the private sector, but we are further away from having a new owner than at anytime in the past decade.

"When SNP ministers appoint preferred bidders of their choice time and time again, the outcome is no sale.

"If the bids are so far off the mark, it calls into question the judgement of ministers and Transport Scotland when agreeing preferred bidders on their watch.

"Ministers can’t keep hiding behind vague claims of the need for confidentiality in a process that’s collapsed just to avoid answering questions on why they have rejected bids and failed to secure a new owner.”

Transport Scotland said: “The selection of the preferred bidder is the starting point of a detailed negotiation.

"The negotiation did not result in an acceptable outcome.”

The Scottish Government agency refused to say if the airport’s board, which recommended the bid’s rejection, had recommended the choice of preferred bidder.

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