Public investment in Prestwick Airport could be pie in the sky

NO-ONE knows exactly how much tax payers' money will be spend on Prestwick Airport, or if they do they are not saying.

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Nicola Sturgeon revealed £11m would be spent this year, adding to the £4.5m already invested in the last year in the airport, since it was bought for £1.

How much will be pumped into the ailing facility in years to come and for how many years is not yet quantifiable, we are told. The question has to be, is it worth it?

If the new management team is successful and grows passenger numbers and increases routes to allow it become viable, then it has to be yes.

Unless of course it is taking them from other airports, like Glasgow, then it must be a no. Robbing Peter to keep Paul in a job is hardly beneficial overall or fair to everyone.

The Deputy First Minister has given assurances the Scottish Government would not show favouritism to Prestwick over Glasgow or Edinburgh, and there is no reason whatsoever to doubt that promise.

However the 'arms length' management team at the airport will have the freedom to operate on a commercial basis in a highly competitive environment.

So, it will do what it has to in order to make it a success, which means compete with nearby airports.

You can forgive Glasgow and Edinburgh being nervous about this backing and investment despite the reassurances.

The alternative to acquisition was closure with the loss of potentially thousands of jobs, so the Scottish Government was right to step in and take action, but months later it does leave questions.

For how long is the Government prepared to invest in the airport if it becomes clear it at any point it can't be turned around? The bill for this could end up much like a budget airline ticket, when the initially justifiable costs goes up with every click of the mouse.

There has been £15m committed so far and the same amount and more in the years to come will be required to subsidise an operation that was losing £800,000 a month.

The hoped-for outcome is the airport starts to make a profit on the back of the much needed investment and Glasgow and Edinburgh do not suffer as a result, which is the Government's ambition. But then the long term plan is, once that has been achieved, to sell it back to a private sector operator. Are we so awash with cash in Scotland that we can spend tens of millions of pounds to reverse a private sector failure only to then turn down the opportunity of keeping the profits to benefit the public purse?

Instead we will allow another private sector operator to come in and buy it back and reap the rewards of the tax payers investment and hard work of the Government.

I'm not sure I can get on board with that idea.

Local government

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