Air traffic staff to get shares

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The Independent Online
EMPLOYEES OF the country's air traffic control service may be offered up to 5 per cent of the shares in the company under the Government's controversial plan to privatise the business in part.

The windfall could be worth about pounds 20,000 for each of the 5,150 employees of National Air Traffic Services (Nats). The Government wants to sell off 51 per cent of the business to the private sector. This is expected to raise pounds 1bn.

In a consultation document published yesterday, the Department of Transport said it plans to offer to the employees up to 10 per cent of the shares being put up for sale, but did not specify whether they would be free shares or whether staff would have to buy them.

The document went some way to reassuring staff about their future if the Public/Private Partnership (PPP) goes ahead in the face of stiff opposition from trade unions.

The Government said it "wished" to see existing contractual terms and conditions of employment maintained after the PPP. "It is recognised that the Government's proposal is causing uncertainty among the staff," it said. The Government is also looking for industry views on a plan to set up a statutory regulator for Nats to control the prices it can charge and ensure the quality of service delivered, on similar lines to those imposed on other privatised monopoly utilities.

The Government believes the PPP would allow Nats to raise private capital, pursue commercial ventures and become more efficient. However, according to reports, ministers are considering scrapping the plan because of the political controversy and over fears that the new pounds 350m control centre in Hampshire, which is crucial to the future of Nats, is falling far behind schedule.

Nats' parent, the Civil Aviation Authority, is expected to announce soon, perhaps to- morrow, that the scheme will not be ready until 2000. John Reid, a Transport minister, faces tough questions today over the centre when he gives evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee.