CutsCheck: Selling off the family silver?
CutsCheck is getting wind of a money-saving wheeze to be announced as part of this month’s spending review. George Osborne is launching a new drive to flog off state-owned companies, buildings and land as he scrambles to bring Britain’s record deficit under control.
I’ve been told the minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude has been asked to lead the drive to sell off the family silver. The Cabinet Office has confirmed he and the Commercial Secretary, Lord Sassoon, are to chair a committee to “consider issues related to the sale of government assets”. Others on the committee include Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, minister for government policy Oliver Letwin, Postal Services Minister Ed Davey and the Energy Minister Lord Marland.
In the emergency Budget in June, the Chancellor did flag up some asset sales – and this seems to be an extension of that.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman told CutsCheck: “The establishment of the committee reflects the importance the government places on this agenda.”
State assets include the Royal Mail, which the government has already said it plans to privatise, and a £370bn property portfolio. Buildings and land range from Ministry of Defence assets, to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in central London and British Waterways, which controls 2,200 miles of canals and rivers. Other state-owned enterprises include Channel 4.
However, although a government source said the Treasury had insisted that nothing was off the table, privatising Channel 4 was not a preferred option.
Cathy Newman’s verdict
All governments short of a penny cast around for state assets ripe for the market. How many times did we hear the Labour government promise to sell off the Tote? Odds are now shortening on ministers finally getting shot of the state-owned bookmaker. But if the Chancellor has his way, that won’t be the only thing he manages to flog.
Privatisation was of course a hallmark of the last Conservative administration. And having invoked the high priestess of privatisation, Margaret Thatcher, in his conference speech this week, perhaps David Cameron is turning to her record for inspiration as he seeks to cut the deficit.