NATS privatisation – government must think again

Following the House of Lords vote last night against the sell-off of National Air Traffic Services (NATS), Dr Gavin Strang MP for East Edinburgh and Musselburgh has urged Ministers to halt the privatisation.

Speaking in Edinburgh today, Gavin Strang said:

‘This is an important and significant defeat for the government. I urge Ministers to collectively reconsider the privatisation plan which is deeply unpopular with the British people, and with Labour supporters in particular.
‘The top management of NATS should be devoting all their ability and working time to ensuring that the New Scottish Centre at Prestwick and the New En Route Centre at Swanwick, near Southampton, are operational as soon as possible. They should not be entangled in a complex privatisation.

‘The Transport Bill now provides for the sale of 75% of the equity in NATS. And Ministers made it clear during its passage through the Commons that if there were to be a disagreement between the ‘private strategic partner’ and the other major shareholder, they would go for a complete private flotation.

‘UK air traffic control is the best in the world. The international airline pilots who fly the world say so. That is why the British airline pilots’ association, BALPA, is opposed to privatisation, as are the unions representing the engineering staff and support workers and the air traffic controllers themselves.

‘The air traffic controllers are concerned that the standards which will be set by the ‘independent regulator’ are likely to be lower than those which NATS currently adheres to. I believe that is one reason why the general aviation community are overwhelmingly opposed to the government on this.

‘Polls show that the British people are opposed to this privatisation. The privatisation plan was described by the all-party House of Commons Transport Select Committee as ‘the worst of all the possible options.’

‘The privatisation of air traffic control was not put forward to improve the safety of our skies, but for financial reasons – first to raise money for the Treasury, which we now know will be less than expected, and secondly because the Treasury would not let NATS borrow from the private sector. But it is now clear that the government’s surplus will be over £20bn this year.

‘The Keep Our Skies Safe group of Labour MPs will be meeting next week to consider the new parliamentary situation. We will be doing all we can to urge Ministers to take this opportunity to reconsider the privatisation of NATS.’