Since the Scottish Government purchased Prestwick airport, we have been clear that our intention is to return the business to the private sector when the time is right. The team at Prestwick has continued to engage with potential buyers and investors to discuss proposals for developing the business under new ownership. The airport is making good progress to increase revenue, deliver operating efficiencies and pursue opportunities for the future.
In the light of that progress, the airport has now placed an advert in the
, inviting expressions of interest. Any proposals that are submitted would be considered carefully before a decision was taken to divest our shareholding or any part of it. In the weeks ahead, it is important that we protect the integrity of that process.
Given that there are over 300 direct jobs and thousands more indirect jobs at Prestwick airport, all of which are crucial to the Ayrshire economy, can the First Minister assure those workers that there will be no sale to a company that does not guarantee to secure and grow those jobs? Will she ensure that there will be full consultation with the trade unions before any sale goes ahead? Will she also give an assurance to the taxpayer that any sale will be subject to agreement that the £40 million-plus that was loaned to Prestwick airport will be paid back in full by any new owner, should one be found?
I hope that the member will appreciate that I will not go into too much speculative detail about any bids that might come in and the consideration that would be given to them. It is important that we protect the integrity of the process, and any decisions that are taken will have to be in the overall interest of Prestwick airport and those who work in it. I fully expect engagement with trade unions, and given that the Scottish Government’s purpose in bringing the airport into public ownership was to protect jobs, clearly that will be a key consideration for the Prestwick team in the future.
The eligibility questionnaire, which was published in the official journal, sets out some prime objectives for bidders, one of which is maintaining Prestwick as an operational airport. The interests of the local economy, the workers at the airport and the taxpayer are all factors that will have to be take into account before future decisions are taken.