March 25, 2012 10:21 pm

Where the Iron Lady feared to tread

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Even Margaret Thatcher balked at privatising Royal Mail, saying she was “not prepared to have the Queen’s head privatised”. Now the coalition is venturing where the Iron Lady feared to tread.

Privatisation is seen by many as the defining idea of the Thatcher era. By the time she left office in 1990, more than 40 UK state-owned businesses employing 600,000 had been sold off.

Privatisation continued under subsequent governments. Labour sold more than £50bn of state assets. Now the coalition plans to auction part of the government’s 49 per cent holding in National Air Traffic Services.

Among the biggest deals are:

British Petroleum 1979 After James Callaghan sold 17 per cent of BP in 1977 to appease the IMF, Margaret Thatcher sold the government’s holding between 1979 and 1987.

British Aerospace 1981 Partial sale of the aerospace manufacturer ushered in era of big privatisations.

British Telecom 1984

The £4bn flotation of 51 per cent of BT proved hugely successful and marked a departure as a utility seen by many as a monopoly suited to public ownership. Later tranches fetched £10bn.

British Gas 1986 Some 1.5m people, lured by a fast profit and the “Tell Sid” advertising campaign, took part in the record £5.6bn flotation.

British Airways 1987 Flag carrier sold in a £900m flotation

British Steel 1988 Its £2.5bn flotation marked a new phase of privatisation in areas such as coal and electricity once regarded as barren for the private sector.

Water 1989 Privatisation of the 10 water companies of England and Wales, which raised £3.6bn.

Electricity 1990

Privatisation into 12 regional electricity companies, two generating companies and the Natilonal Grid, criticised for not creating enough competition.

British Rail 1993-1996

The most complex and controversial privatisation involved breaking BR up into more than 30 companies and selling them separately.

BNFL 2006-2009

Company sold its Westinghouse subsidiary to Toshiba for $5.4bn and later sold the companies that made up its subsidiary, British Nuclear Group.

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