Prestwick may be given to taxpayers for free

Prestwick Airport could be handed over for nothing, says Infratil. Picture: Robert Perry
Prestwick Airport could be handed over for nothing, says Infratil. Picture: Robert Perry
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PRESTWICK airport could be handed over to the Scottish Government for nothing, owners Infratil have indicated.

The New Zealand firm revealed it did not now expect “material proceeds” from any deal.

The news comes after Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed to MSPs on Tuesday that the Ayrshire airport, which is losing £7 million a year, was being taken into public control to avert its closure by Infratil.

The firm is still trying to offload its other UK airport, at Manston in Kent.

A company statement said: “Infratil does not now expect any transaction completed for Glasgow Prestwick Airport or Manston Kent Airport to give rise to material proceeds.”

Infratil said the Scottish Government intended to “pursue an acquisition” of Prestwick by 20 November.

It added: “To provide comfort to the Scottish Government during this process, Infratil has confirmed it will endeavour to procure the continued operation of Glasgow Prestwick Airport in the ordinary course of business consistent with the manner in which it has been operated in the last 12 months until, at least, that date.”

Infratil put the airport up for sale in March last year as an “under-performing asset”, with Prestwick and Manston valued at a combined £11 million. The firm bought Prestwick from Stagecoach in 2001 for £33 million.

Prestwick’s passenger total has halved to around 1.1 million in six years as airlines have been lured away, leaving Ryanair as its sole passenger carrier.

Opposition politicians welcomed the prospect of no taxpayers’ cash being involved in the acquisition.

Ministers have said the acquisition would safeguard some 1,400 jobs, including 300 at the airport.

Scottish Labour infrastructure spokesman James Kelly said: “Prestwick airport is an under-performing asset for this company and so it’s in their interests to give the Scottish Government a good deal for taking it off their hands.

“Bringing it into public ownership has to represent value for money for taxpayers, and that’s not just about the sale price but also ongoing running costs, finding a suitable commercial partner, improving performance and protecting jobs.”

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “Given the airport is currently bleeding money under its current owners, this would be the correct outcome.

“The Scottish Government has relieved the firm of this burden, and it would only be right if the value of the deal is equal to, or less than, zero.”

The Scottish Government declined to comment on the Infratil statement.

A spokesman for its Transport Scotland agency referred to its own statement, issued on Tuesday, which said: “Once the Scottish Government has completed its due diligence and is content to proceed, it will negotiate a purchase price with Infratil that will aim to maximise the return for taxpayers’ investment.

“The Scottish Government will, within the rules governing state aid, make available the necessary funding to make Prestwick the success we know it can be.

“We will look to our partners in Scottish Enterprise and the three Ayrshire councils to contribute to that success in terms of funding and a role in the airport.

“Scottish Government ownership would be along full commercial lines.”