Asset sales: Groundhog Day

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When I woke up this morning I thought I had time travelled back to April; when Alistair Darling promised to raise £16bn from asset sales. But no: the news on the radio was that Gordon Brown would promise to sell assets….and they would be worth £16bn.

So what has changed? I wrote only a week ago that the original Budget target was probably moonshine because it depended on councils volunteering to sell off their homes, offices, playing fields etc (what’s in it for them?). A vast £11bn of the £16bn is meant to come from local authorities.

The number also included several property-based businesses such as the QE2 Centre, British Waterways and Land Registry (which alone lost £129m last year).

Those three now seem to be out of the list. In are the Channel tunnel rail link plus those jumble sale favourites the Tote (which they tried unsuccessfully to sell for almost a decade) and student loans. Together with others announced last year - including the Dartford crossing/tunnel and the 32 per cent stake in Urenco, the uranium processing company – they could raise about £3bn, we are told.

I asked Gordon Brown’s spokesman how much these individual businesses were worth. He couldn’t say. Not because he didn’t know, of course, but because of commercial confidentiality.

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