South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy & Transport & Rural Affairs Colin Smyth has once again raised questions about the future of Prestwick Airport.
The local MSP accused the Scottish Government of failing to have a plan for Prestwick after another bid for sale for the airport recently collapsed. Prestwick has been owned by the Scottish Government since 2013, when they paid just £1 to buy the site from New Zealand firm Infratil. Since then they have given the airport loans worth close to £50 million.
Following demands from Labour for a Parliamentary statement last week, Economy and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes told MSPs that she would not disclose details of the bids, including the identities of the bidders, claiming the need for commercial confidentiality but she said the Scottish Government’s preferred bidder pulled out of negotiations in May 2021. The Scottish Government then re-engaged with the second-placed bidder, but “various concerns” were identified and it was not pursued further.
Although Kate Forbes said the airport turned a modest profit last year, stating “the business is performing well”, there remains no payment plan in place for the outstanding loans and currently no bidder for the airport despite the Government saying they remained committed to returning it to the private sector.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, Colin Smyth said: “It is 10 years since Prestwick was bought by the Government, which claimed that its plan was to return the airport to the private sector.
“A decade on, we still do not have any clear explanation from the cabinet secretary of why every appointment by the Government of its preferred bidder ends in the same outcome, which is no sale.
“We still do not know how close we were this time to an actual sale. The cabinet secretary has explained the latest bids that have been rejected and the timescale in which they were rejected.
“Can she tell us how many other bids have been received by the Government since it took ownership of the airport 10 years ago and when those bids were rejected?
“The cabinet secretary says that Prestwick’s finances are strong, but there is still no repayment plan for the millions of pounds of Government loans.
“We know that there is a need for significant investment in Prestwick airport. Given that we are no further forward when it comes to a new owner, will the cabinet secretary tell us where the investment will come from?
“Where is the Government’s plan for the running of Prestwick airport, for delivering the sustainable future that she talked about and for securing the jobs that the Ayrshire economy desperately needs?”
Speaking after the debate, Colin Smyth said: “The collapse of this latest deal is yet another blow for the airport.
“Serious questions need to be asked about the Government’s handling of this sale.
“Prestwick workers have been stuck in limbo for years waiting for this deal to materialise, only to get knocked back to square one and they deserve answers.
“Thousands of jobs are on the line – both direct at the airport but also across Ayrshire, so there is simply no room for the SNP’s usual incompetence.
“We cannot abandon Prestwick and let it become yet another failed industrial intervention from the SNP.
“The SNP must show they have a plan to for the future of this vital strategic asset which secures jobs, and the tens of millions of taxpayer pounds already invested in it.”