The news that Birmingham City Council has a break clause in its airport shareholding and can sell in another two years appears to have set pulses racing across the West Midlands. What should we do with a cool £67 million windfall?
The Council, which has been described as ‘cash-strapped’, denies that it is looking to sell its shareholding, but it is only human to begin to mentally spend the cash. I’m sure there are plenty of roads, buildings and other infrastructure projects which could use the money.
However, we need to think long-term here and that means the Council should resist temptation and hold onto its shareholding. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog how this country had lost control of its ability to build its own nuclear power stations when the previous Government sold its shareholding in British Energy for £4 billion. Was it a bad price? No, but it wasn’t a good deal either because we now have to rely on others to help us meet our target of a four-fold increase in nuclear capacity.
Similarly, the development of the airport, in particular increasing the number of scheduled flights to the United States and the Middle East, will potentially bring riches to the region way beyond the price of the shareholding. The Council must remain in a position to influence that development.
I’ll give you one more reason why the Council shouldn’t sell. I know none of us like to be constantly compared with Manchester, but the growth of Manchester Airport Group is one of the outstanding aviation success stories of the last two decades. It is no coincidence that it remains publicly owned by a consortium of the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester.